An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (change of political affiliation)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Joe Preston  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of June 17, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-251. First, I want to tell our NDP colleague, through the Chair, that we recognize that the whole issue of members who change parties is a matter of concern. We have a nice word to describe such people; we call them turncoats. However, there is a problem with the remedy suggested by our NDP colleague, just as there was with Bill C-408 introduced by the Conservative member for Simcoe—Grey.

In order to put this into context, we must recognize that, under Bill C-408, introduced by the Conservatives—and defeated in the House—any member switching parties automatically had to step down and that seat was then up for grabs. In this case, Bill C-251 states that, when a member changes political affiliation, that member becomes and must remain an independent for the rest of that legislature. This is somewhat problematic. Had that provision had been in place in 1992-93, the Bloc Québécois could not have been created by pioneering individuals.

Hon. members will recall that, when the Bloc Québécois was founded, there was not the required 12 members. Only nine MPs had left their original party, Progressive Conservative or Liberal. Recognition as a caucus required the magic number of 12. Had Bill C-251 been in effect at that time, they could not have sat under the Bloc Québécois banner but would have had to sit as independents until the end of the session.

This strikes us, therefore, as a serious problem, particularly where Bill C-408 is concerned. We see that as a rather vicious counterattack by the Conservatives. We might even consider it an act of revenge in reaction to the move by their former colleague, the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, who, as hon. members will recall, joined the ranks of the Liberal Party this past May. Once again, the Liberals are showing how low they will stoop in an attempt to buy votes. In that case, the current Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal party dangled a ministerial appointment as a lure to get the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora to cross over to his party.

Under the guise of bolstering democracy, Bill C-251 can end up doing the reverse. It can, for instance, increase the pressure on members to toe the party line. Members who might sometimes stray from that line or sometimes criticize certain positions taken by their party, though not necessarily publicly, might end up under undue pressure from their caucus, their party, or their leader. They might be told that, if they are not happy, they might end up expelled and forced to sit as independents.

It must be remembered that to give this type of power to a caucus or the leader of a party can amount to virtually the opposite of having a member democratically elected by the constituents. In our opinion, this bill could further limit the political freedom of members, who are, in our democratic system of representation, the basis of the political system. The people elect the MP and should therefore judge his actions.

In the past two general elections, that of 2000 and of 2004, there were some 40 defectors. We should take a look at what happened with these defections, from a numbers standpoint.

We had such a situation in the riding of Châteauguay. We have to recognize the principle that the people are never wrong. The public as a whole is mature enough to decide in the next election whether it approves what a defector has done.

In this House, there was the case of Robert Lanctôt, who had originally been elected under the Bloc Québécois banner. Thanks to the dirty tricks and promises only the Liberal Party is capable of, Mr. Lanctôt crossed the floor of the House and for some time sat as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. In the next election, he was defeated. The people of Châteauguay judged him. Another colleague is sitting now as the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, the name of the riding having been changed.

In conclusion, we have to trust the public. It is never wrong. I want to reiterate what was said during the first hour of debate. Unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill. We do recognize, however, that our NDP colleague deserves support for his bill and for examining the question. Forty defectors since 2000 would appear a fairly significant problem, but we consider the doctor's remedy a little stronger than the illness requires. Perhaps the MP will have time over the holidays to think up another formula that will produce the same results, but by different means.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-251. I happened to be listening to the Rutherford show the day the hon. member introduced this bill. It was interesting that he was actually scheduled to be on this radio talk show in western Canada but he had to be in the House to introduce his bill. I noticed that the radio stations CHED in Edmonton and QR77 in Calgary broadcast live from the House a portion of his speech while he was introducing the bill. He therefore has received a good amount of publicity on this bill.

There are various ways of looking at this issue. When a member who is elected as a Liberal decides that the Liberal ways just do not cut it and decides to, say, join the Conservative Party, this bill would prevent that member from doing that.

My gut feeling says that I would rather not want to discourage that because, obviously, there are Liberals nowadays who are starting to see the light and are seeing that the direction their government is taking is not the right direction. I think that if they sincerely believe that the Liberals need to be defeated and they would like to give added strength to the Conservative Party, in a way I like that idea.

On the other hand, I can see where there are some problems with this. That member ran in the election as a Liberal candidate. During the election he said that he supported the policies and principles of the Liberal Party of Canada and, rightly or wrongly, the voters in that riding accepted that argument and elected him.

I am sure it would have been by a very narrow margin but he or she did get in. He or she comes to this place and sits in this Parliament on the government side because the Liberals got more seats than any of the other parties. Therefore the member represents what the plurality of the voters in his or her riding wanted. If during the time of that Parliament the member says that he or she can no longer sit here, that is a personal decision, a decision that says that he or she feels what happened is wrong and that he or she needs to do something about it.

I can see where that would present a real dilemma. In that sense, I have some reservation with a bill that says that when a person leaves the party to sit with another party that person should automatically lose his or her seat in Parliament and there should be a byelection. I know the intent is really well-founded.

Bill C-251 addresses that in allowing the member to sit as an independent. I sort of like that idea as a way of countering it. It is a reasonable solution in the sense that the person, as an independent, could then, probably even more than members of political parties, as we have seen in all parties, sometimes having to sort of bite their tongue and vote in a way which may be somewhat inconsistent with not only their personal beliefs but perhaps the desires of the people who elected them in the first place. That happens occasionally.

I know it happened big time in 1993 when a lot of members were chastized by the electorate because of their stand on the GST. It became quite a large issue, as members know.

If there were a crossing over from one party to another, or from a party to an independent, or from an independent position to join one of the parties, perhaps Parliament could respond to a petition in the riding. It could well be that the members of the voting public in the riding would support this position and then a byelection would actually be unnecessary.

If there were sufficient numbers of people in the riding who took umbrage at what the member had done, then, by a petition, which I will not speculate here on the number of names that would be required on such a petition, but a petition would return power back to the people. It would allow them to ask for a byelection so they could vote for a member who is with this party or that party, or even the same member under that party, but they would be able to reaffirm him or her. A byelection would have to take place because the people demanded it rather than it being triggered by some other process.

Another conundrum arises from both this bill and the one from one of my colleagues on this side, Bill C-408. Both of these bills address the issue of power of the leader.

I think one of the things that got me elected in 1993 was the stand of our party and me personally, that a member of Parliament has as a first obligation to represent the constituents who elected him or her. That is true.

I remember back in the old days, because I am old enough to remember this, that when the old CCF came in I believe it was a true grassroots party. It responded to the wishes of the people. I hesitate to say this but I think to some degree at least the NDP too has been greatly overtaken by the influence of special interest and lobby groups. I would mention unions for example and then there are others as well that I think have too great a control. However that is okay. If they can garner support from among union members I have no problem with that but I do have a problem when they get the support of the union leadership and the union then takes some of the union dues and gives it to that party. As an individual who never did support the socialistic side of the NDP in that sense, I took some objection to the fact that when I was a forced union member they took my dues and contributed them to members of the NDP to help them get elected. To me, that was a violation of my democratic right. We have these different issues.

It is important for us to remember, whether we are Conservatives, Liberals or NDP, that our strength and our legitimization comes from the support of our constituents, which is why I propose that the bill would be improved if there were a clause in it that said that a member who leaves a party may sit as an independent and perhaps not trigger a byelection as long as he or she remains independent and does not align with another party, which would be opposite.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, today, in this second hour of debate on Bill C-251, we are debating what is undoubtedly a very important issue for Parliament.

First, I certainly support fully the idea of strengthening the vitality of our democracy. This government has placed democratic renewal front and centre in its priorities, and it is also a matter that concerns us all, as members of this House.

There is a problem with this bill, however, in that the mechanism it proposes, namely forcing a member to vacate his or her seat upon crossing the floor of the House, leaves much to be desired. If passed, this bill will not strengthen democracy. I can only weaken it, by putting even more power in the hands of political parties at the expense of elected representatives.

The bill has been presented before, by the same hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, and under the old rules in previous parliaments, it was not votable. As a result of the government's commitment to addressing democratic deficit, the Standing Orders were changed to make private members' business a more viable legislative tool. Today, as members know, most private members' bills and motions are votable and therefore have a real chance of becoming law.

The changes to how private members' business works make up just one of the changes made in this Parliament that have further empowered individual members of Parliament. Other changes initiated by our government include, for example, in our caucus, a three line whip system for votes, sending more bills to committee prior to second reading, encouraging members of Parliament to choose which committees they would like to sit on, and making government appointments available to committees for review. All of this has given members of Parliament more power in the House.

This bill, meanwhile, sends us in the opposite direction, taking the ultimate power away from individual members of Parliament and giving it, in many cases, to party leadership.

Bill C-251 overlooks the fact that, in order to play their role properly, members of Parliament have to do their best to represent their constituents well. If that means leaving their party, this is surely a decision individual members of Parliament may have to make, guided by their conscience and with the best interests of their people, their constituents, in mind.

Floor-crossing may be seen as a necessary last resort for members seeking better ways to represent their constituents. Over time, many parties have divided or transformed as they try to structure the best organization they believe will serve their voters. The creation of new parties to accommodate regional or grassroots interests is a prime example of democratic participation.

When the hon. member's bill was last being debated, it was a time of great transition for the far right of our political spectrum. The Reform Party was becoming the Alliance Party. That, in turn, lost some members to the democratic reform caucus. Later, the old Alliance Party came back together to join with some members of the previous Progressive Conservative Party to form the party that now makes up the official opposition.

If this bill had been in place over this transition period, during which there were no less than perhaps 76 party switches, the taxpayer would have had to pay over $14 million for various byelections, and arguably the transformation would never have taken place.

I find it ironic that the bill's own sponsor has been critical to some extent of a similar bill, Bill C-408, because he believes it strengthens the party structure at the expense of individual members of Parliament, while he would assert that Bill C-251 does not.

I have a different opinion than the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. In the member's own speech in the first hour of debate, he might have in fact made an argument against his own bill. On the issue of sitting as an independent member, the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore said:

Sitting as an independent in this House sometimes is not the greatest thing...It is not the best representation for constituents in some cases.

Forcing an MP who is at odds with his or her party to sit as an independent in fact contributes to disempowering that member.

In the first hour of debate, the member again made a startling admission when he said that:

The bill would allow a leader of a party to deal with an individual member of a caucus who, for example, was being a bit of a rabble-rouser or detrimental to the caucus. The leader could make that person sit as an independent member....

I hope members will agree that this is somewhat surprising in suggesting as it does that we as members of the House support a bill that would force us to be silent when we disagree with the leadership of our party for fear of forcing a byelection or being made to sit as an independent.

The hon. member's party was perhaps attracted to the notion of strengthening its hold on dissenting members of the caucus, and even included, for example, a ban on floor crossing in its ethics package, but using legislative measures to limit dissent and the ultimate expression of dissent by members of a caucus does not seem, from my perspective, to form a very appropriate part of an ethics package.

Much has changed since this debate has taken place in previous Parliaments. Members have more power to influence governments than ever before. In this regard, Bill C-251 could be seen as a step backward.

Instead of consolidating partisan control, we should strengthen the ties between members of Parliament and their constituents, as well as their influence as representatives of these constituents. That is what the government is currently doing with its action plan for democratic renewal, while Bill C-251 would be a step backward.

It is with some regret that I must tell the hon. member for Sackville--Eastern Shore that I will not be supporting this private member's bill. I have great respect for the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore. He and I share similar views on many matters, certainly matters important in Atlantic Canada, such as the inshore fishery or regional development, for example, but with respect to democratic reform and taking power away from individual members of the House and consolidating it in the hands of party leadership, he and I will have to differ.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2005 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-408 is a bill toward which my own party will be taking the approach of allowing a completely free vote, that is to say each of us will be voting as we see best.

I want to start by saying that I have a great deal of respect for the hon. member who proposed the bill and for his intentions, which I think are very reasonable ones. He has seen, as we all did earlier this year to our enormous surprise, the switching of parties by one member having the effect of causing the government to survive on a tie vote. This occurred after the government had arranged to delay the confidence vote long enough to give time for that member to be brought over from this side of the House to the other side of the House. That kind of spectacle dispirits all of us. It is hard not to sympathize with the goal of trying to prevent that kind of thing from occurring.

That being said, I do have some reservations that relate very much to the kinds of reservations already expressed by other members of the House. I have concerns about the increase in party discipline and the discipline of parties over individual members. I have concerns about the ability of members to leave their party and sit as independents, not merely crossing the floor to another party, nor indeed crossing the floor to another party and being rewarded with a ministerial post as is the case with the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, but also people leaving their party and sitting as independents, or as has happened in the past, leaving their party to create a new faction or group within the House of Commons.

This took place when the Bloc Québécois was created some years ago. This also took place with the Democratic Reform caucus when a number of people left the Canadian Alliance, of which I was a member, and formed a new group that worked with the Progressive Conservatives. Some people thought that was a very bad idea. I have to admit I did not think it was a great idea at the time and I did not join it. Others felt that it was a step that assisted us to bring together the two parties eventually to create one new party. That in itself involved a shift in labels.

One can argue whether or not the new Conservative Party of Canada was a successor party to the old PC and CA or was a new creation. Under the electoral law of the country, which is not relevant to standings in the House, the Chief Electoral Officer, when he was talking about the Canadian Alliance and its ancestry in the Reform Party, said that it is really the same party under a different name. That was his argument. Therefore, if we take his ruling outside and impose it on the House inside, which might or might not be permissible under the terms of this law and the privileges of Parliament to which my hon. colleague from Rouge River drew our attention a moment ago, it is conceivable that that was only a change in name. For the two predecessor parties to the current Conservative Party, it is a little harder to say what the exact rules were. This could potentially be a problem in this regard.

These are legitimate concerns to have when dealing with a bill such as this one. These changes that have gone on have not been judged illegitimate by the voters of Canada. The voters of Canada did not consider it illegitimate to create the Canadian Alliance out of the Reform Party. The fact is the first election the Canadian Alliance contested was the election in which I ran as a candidate in 2000, and we did substantially better than we had done in the 1997 election. We won many more seats.

In the first election contested by the new Conservative Party of Canada, once again there was a substantial increase in the number of seats over those won by either the old Canadian Alliance or the old PC Party, in fact more than both put together. That suggests these were not regarded as illegitimate actions.

Speaking for myself as someone who started off as a Canadian Alliance MP and became a Conservative MP, did I change parties? It all depends on a person's interpretation. The point is I went from winning in my riding by a margin of 1,800 votes to winning by a margin of 10,000 votes. Therefore, the voters ultimately did not think that was an unacceptable thing to do.

There are other things that concern me, for example, if a member crosses the floor shortly before an anticipated election, and a number of members moved around in the month or two prior to the 2004 election. One was the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, who is currently a parliamentary secretary. There was another member who is no longer a member, John Herron, from New Brunswick. There was yet another member from the Hamilton area who moved over from the Liberals to the new Conservative Party. None of those people were required to resign their seats, and here is what happened to those three individuals.

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca ran as a Liberal and was re-elected. Formerly he had run as a Canadian Alliance candidate. The voters basically said that they agreed with what he did, but the point is they did it in the election and we did not have to have a byelection shortly before a general election.

The member from New Brunswick, John Herron, ran as a Liberal and was defeated by the Conservative. So the voters dealt with him, again without the need for recourse of this bill.

In the third example I cited, the member was defeated in a nomination and did not even get the chance to run.

There are number of ways to deal with the problem of members who cross the floor. We do not want it to be too automatic or invoke the kinds of costs that the hon. parliamentary secretary drew our attention to. I think he cited $14 million as a potential cost if all of these various changes had been regarded as requiring byelections. How do we allow people to say to their member of Parliament that they do not agree with the member's crossing the floor or the member's change of party affiliation, or alternatively that they do agree with it? We could potentially put something in a law to allow people in a riding to petition for a byelection if their member had left the party the member had been elected with. That might allow for some kind of compromise. It would not force a byelection automatically. I think that would be a good idea.

However, that is not contemplated in this particular piece of legislation. Notwithstanding its good intentions, that is a genuine flaw in this bill. I would like to see either an amendment of that sort made to the bill or ultimately I would have to vote against the bill.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to say how important this evening's debate is. It is extremely important and fascinating because it presents two opposing arguments, that of the Conservative Party and that of the Liberal Party. I want to cite Marleau and Montpetit, the procedural reference book of the House of Commons. It clearly states that members must assume the responsibilities inherent in their status. They have a central and very important role since they are the incarnation of direct democracy. They are elected directly by their constituents. It is their name, as incumbent or candidate, that appears on the ballot and not just the name of the party with which they are affiliated. That is extremely important.

At home we say that once your face is on the poster, you are the one people vote for or not. According to Marleau and Montpetit, members sit in the House of Commons to serve as representatives of the people who have elected them to that office. They have wide-ranging responsibilities which include work in the Chamber, committees, their constituencies and political parties. The members assume responsibilities in many areas. Among others:

They act as ombudsmen by providing information to constituents and resolving problems.

They act as legislators by either initiating bills of their own or proposing amendments to government and other members’ bills.

They develop specialized knowledge in one or more of the policy areas dealt with by Parliament, and propose recommendations to the government.

I was elected in June 2004 and that is precisely the work I do in this House and in the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. It is an extremely important role that transcends the role of the party, once the member is elected. We are members of a party, but we represent and defend our constituents.

We have done some research. I will not even read the figures on defectors, or as Quebeckers often call them, turncoats. We have analyzed how often they were re-elected or were candidates in another election. It is not right to say that Canadians scorn a turncoat, because most of them were re-elected. It is important to stress that. Are we to interpret this as a gesture of political indifference, or as a gesture of support for the individual rather than his party? I would prefer to think it was the latter.

If this is not the case, the price will be paid by poorly represented citizens. Clearly, it is not necessary to have an MP who has crossed the floor for people to be poorly represented, judging by the statistics we consulted. People's confidence is, no doubt, shaken by a defection, because crossing the floor is no small thing. Regardless of the reasons, the MP owes an explanation to his constituents, and they must be the only ones to judge the validity of his explanation. The figures clearly demonstrate, however, that independent members are far less likely to run again. This is absolutely normal, because not only are they unable to benefit from the logistics of a political party, they have the machinery of other parties to contend with.

Moving on to Bill C-408, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Bloc Québécois to vote in favour of this bill, for a number of reasons.

First, we absolutely want to help democracy. This bill, however, is even more restrictive because it does away with the possibility for an independent, or someone who wants to become independent, to complete his mandate.

Let us imagine the following scenario, which is a realistic one. Taking the Bloc Québécois as an example, let us assume that it decided at its congress to do away with article 1, which is on the promotion of sovereignty. I can assure you that a number of Bloc Québécois members would leave this party to sit as independents. Under Bill C-408, byelections would have to be called within 30 days.

Let us just imagine the situation for a moment. The government has just had a general election, in June 2004. There are 54 of us, and there would have been a convention in September. At first glance that makes no sense. It gets worse. If our constituents are displeased, I can assure the House that, particularly in a riding like mine, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, they will let us know. We are really tough on turncoats, and very often they are not accepted. The voters in my riding will have the power to sanction that individual in the next election if they do not agree with his decision.

However, even if the MP is independent, his responsibility remains unchanged, that is, to represent his electors ahead of meeting his party's demands. Oftentimes, that can cause considerable debate. I sit in the House of Commons and represent Abitibi-Témiscamingue in Ottawa and not Ottawa in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. I have always maintained this and it must be understood. I also felt much better placed within in the Bloc Québécois in order to defend the interests of my region and Quebec in Parliament in Ottawa. This is why I am in the Bloc.

Instead of trying to reduce the democratic deficit, this bill accentuates it. Under the bill, a member expelled from his caucus loses his seat. This amounts to giving each caucus the power to dismiss a person. Let me explain.

Let us say that a member of your party is unsuitable and causes trouble. The best way to resolve the problem is to expel him from caucus. If this bill were passed, it would mean a new election at the end of 30 days. It would be the best way for a party to divest itself of someone less popular.

That is what I saw when I studied this bill. Clause 21.1 warrants careful reading:

If a member of the House of Commons leaves the political party to which that member belonged when the member was elected to the House of Commons, that member shall sit in the House of Commons as an independent for a period of 35 days.

That means exactly what it says. If you are expelled, you become an independent.

Once the period of 35 days has elapsed, the member’s election to the House of Commons shall become void, the seat of that member shall be vacated—

This is why, based on all of these remarks, we will be unable to support this bill.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2005 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-408 today because it raises vitally important issues of democratic governance that no member of the House should hesitate to confront: How do we balance our roles as parliamentarians with those of party members?

The development of a national party system affected Canadian democracy in fundamental ways. It spawned a new dynamic in the way we do democracy. It created a new terminology in political studies and it enlarged the power and responsibilities of parties as democratic institutions.

Parties were a major player in transforming Canada, from colonial rule to an independent democracy based on responsible government. However, at the same time, we must monitor our institutions to appropriately accommodate concepts such as party solidarity, party loyalty and party discipline. We must always ensure that our ties to the party continue to be a means of enhancing our responsibility to the people rather than diluting it.

In short, parties make our jobs more complex, but it is this complexity that can be used for the good of democracy. The greatest danger would be to oversimplify our role as parliamentary players in this system because it would prevent proper scrutiny of how parties affect that role. This is why Bill C-408 is important to debate.

As I see it, the greatest oversimplification that government observers fall prey to is the simple reduction of democracy to a vote. The vote is essential and fundamental to democracy, but democracy is so much more, as are our relationships to our constituents and our role as members of Parliament.

Democracy is complex and multi-faceted, and the party system adds another layer to this analysis. Parties have the unique ability to enhance and fortify democratic representation, but a well mediated balance must be obtained so they do not supercede it. Let me explain what I mean.

Often it seems to me democracy gets boiled down to a vote. First, the vote cast at the ballot box and second, the vote that MPs make standing in the House. However, it does a disservice to characterize our mandate as deriving solely from that first vote or our role as encompassing merely that second vote. We do too much here and our constituents expect far more for that to be true. We are advocates, deliberators, debaters, strategizers, coalition builders, mediators, legislators and more.

Were it otherwise, we would need to return to the ballot box every time a policy was debated that was not presented to voters during the election campaign. We would need a byelection every time a new and pressing national issue faced the country. We would no longer be a representative of democracy but a group of spokesmen. The capacity to govern the country would be undermined because a unified voice on every issue simply does not exist in a nation as diverse and as complex as Canada.

In this way, parties provide an invaluable means of making representative democracy effective. Were we simply delegates to the constituents, then nothing would be done in the national interest because each MP would be purely focused on re-election rather than representing. The truth is our party affiliation does play a significant role in voter choice, and this is a good thing. It expresses the national direction that voters want their representatives to take when they arrive here in Parliament.

Again, it is a balance. To be purely a party delegate is not good for democracy either. Constituents must have a voice and a role in their government. Their responsibility does not end at the ballot box either. They are our ultimate line of accountability and their engagement is vital to a healthy democracy.

The party system provides a useful means of organizing and consolidating information, but the relationship between the voters and the MP is a primary one. Of necessity, this relationship must continue in our constituency work and in the day to day functioning of Parliament.

The core principle of elected representation is that our work only begins with winning a seat in the House. More than being voted in as part of a party slate, our role is to continually be responsive to local concerns, communicating parliamentary developments back to constituents, and working continuously and tirelessly to keep Canadians engaged with their government.

The House schedule is premised on the reality that we each have significant constituency duties at our riding offices and that we have time to speak with and get to know the people in our ridings. This indispensable and invaluable role is performed generally apart from party affiliation because we represent the whole constituency, not just fellow party members.

The Lortie Commission on electoral reform characterized these competing roles very eloquently when it rejected the idea of a recall mechanism for parliamentarians. In its words:

In Canada's system of parliamentary government, MPs are not elected as representatives who randomly come together in a national legislature simply to advance the views and interests of their constituents on matters of national policy. Rather, the House of Commons is a collective decision-making and representative institution that must weigh the competing interests of citizens against the national interest. The weakness in the argument that recall should be used against individual MPs who do not take direct instructions from their constituents is that MPs who isolate themselves from the collective deliberation of public policies will be less equipped to represent their constituents, not more so.

In short, Bill C-408 raises important issues of party politics and representative democracy, but it responds to them by falling prey to both extremes of oversimplification.

First, it presumes that MPs are members of parties first and foremost, rather than representatives of their ridings. Second, it assumes that voting is the only means of democratic expression and engagement in the relationship between MPs and their constituents. As a result, adopting Bill C-408 would upset the balance between the representative democracy and party politics we currently have, creating the conditions for an ineffective and unstable governing system.

MPs seek office for a single overriding reason: they want to do good. Often this means joining a political party because doing the most good is easier in a group of dedicated individuals with the same aspirations and ideas for bettering the country. Should changes in circumstances, policies or people mean that a member's and party's ideas of the good no longer coincide, then the member has a difficult choice to make. In the event the decision leads to leaving the party, then to legislatively prohibit such a result would realign the basic building blocks of our representative democracy.

Notably, the official opposition's party platform explicitly states that it would not endorse any electoral system changes that would weaken the link between members of Parliament and their constituents or that will strengthen the control of the party machinery over individual members of Parliament. Ironically, in just two pages, the opposition member does exactly that in Bill C-408.

No one understands better than the governing party that party solidarity is an important asset in maintaining the stability and responsibility of government. In addition, however, no one more than the government wants to ensure the continual renewal of the Canadian democracy. In the complex project of democracy, this must include maintaining an appropriate balance between party politics and voter representation.

May I sum up that Bill C-408 seeks to upset this balance by oversimplifying our roles and responsibilities. It replaces the traditions of party solidarity and discipline with a strict centralization of power with the party executive. Parties should serve to support the democratic functioning of Parliament and not hinder it. This is the responsibility of each of us to ensure. This is why Bill C-408 should not be supported.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

moved that Bill C-408, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (change of political affiliation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, during this Parliament, we have seen need for legislation such Bill C-408.

The people of Elgin--Middlesex--London chose me as their representative here in Ottawa. It is a duty that none of us take lightly. The choosing of MPs can include many decisions, most important, the people themselves, their moral character, work ethic, past behaviour and the ability to problem solve. We are now shown that in the world of instant media of 30-second sound bytes, of CNN and other news channels, we are not judged as strongly or as closely as individuals in our ridings, as we may have once been. We are now chosen for our party affiliation, at least partly for that.

We could dispute whether it is good or bad that we are now chosen as members of a party rather than as individuals for the role of MP. However, I do not believe it is inaccurate that this is now happening.

The policies of a party or its leader now have a great deal of weight on the elector's decision. It is not only a choice made about the party today, but most likely an historic decision about the decision making process. What has this party done in the past? What are the current practices? What is the potential future behaviour of that party?

I came to this place with the true altruistic motives of continuing to help the voters of Elgin--Middlesex--London, to work hard to represent the interests of the riding. I also have discovered the need to help the government bring back this proud tradition to the House.

The beast of democratic deficit must be slain. We must return to a time of responsibility, a time of personal, individual and political responsibility. It is time to stand and be counted. Members are either here to represent their constituents and their wishes or they are not. If this is true and members elected find they cannot remain in the political party that they arrived in the House representing, then they should stand up for the constituents, go back to the people and let them verify the decision members have made to leave.

I would like to read a bit from the bill. It simply asks that:

If a member of the House of Commons leaves the political party to which that member belonged when the member was elected to the House of Commons, that member shall sit in the House of Commons as an independent for a period of 35 days.

At the end of that, it states:

Once the period of 35 days has elapsed, the member’s election to the House of Commons shall become void, the seat of that member shall be vacated, and a writ shall be issued for the election of a member to fill the vacancy.

The bill proposes that a member should to take it back home to ask his or her constituents if the choice is the right choice. They elected that person as a member of a party and as an individual. When one of those two things no longer becomes valid, we believe it should be the choice of the voters to make the difference.

We speak highly of this House, the decisions we make and what we stand for. There are times when what one party stands for is drastically different than what another party stands for. It is easy to see that in these days of Gomery reports and other scandals that perhaps a member may not be as proud to represent the party, but his or her electorate sent that member here to do that.

The point I am making is if members substantially change their affiliations, they must go back to the people who sent them here and ask them if that is what they want. It is not about what the member wants. It is about what the voters want. It is only right and fair that the decision making process remains with the group who is supposed to make it, and that is the voters.

Parliament of Canada Act
Routine Proceedings

June 17th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-408, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (change of political affiliation).

Mr. Speaker, this bill was written and co-sponsored by the member for Simcoe--Grey. I wish to thank her for her hard work and dedication on this issue.

Canadians speak of democratic reform and the failings of the democratic deficit. This private member's bill ensures that voters' wishes do not get ignored. All members of Parliament must honour the wishes of their constituents and not achieve personal gain. We as members are and must be accountable to the people. Voters must be listened to. If passed, this bill will ensure that happens.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)