House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was petitions.

Topics

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1:30 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments with great interest and would like to make a few comments and also ask a question.

First of all, he commented that my party, the Reform Party, seems to have only one agenda which is illustrated by our questions in question period. Specifically, we deal quite often with matters of more direct democracy.

We think that Canadians' priorities are economic issues and we have been trying to ask those types of questions but have not been able to get answers from the government. It keeps saying it cannot answer those questions until the budget is delivered. In the meantime we have been asking questions about another issue Canadians spoke to us about regarding their lack of involvement and input on the decisions that are made in this House.

I was glad to hear the hon. member say that he feels there could be some improvements and would be willing to have the procedure and House affairs committee look at changes to the way we handle petitions. I think that is the gist of this motion, and the motion only calls for at least once during a session that petitions be considered by this House as a whole.

My major concern is that this House has lost its concern and respect for Canadians as individuals. The member quoted Sir Edmund Burke and while he was quoting I almost thought I was listening to a Tory politician from days gone by. It was that type of attitude that saw them practically eliminated from this House, saying if we do not like what they are doing, judge them on their record, come back in a few years and kick them out. That is what Canadians did.

As it turned out, they gave the Tories two mandates because they had this lagging memory of what Liberal governments had done previous to that and they were not prepared to make a change until that memory because so faint that the Conservative memory was more direct in their minds and they said we have to change this government. They were not yet knowledgeable enough about Reform. We will to do some things to correct that situation so that the Reform Party could form the government.

The problem is that politicians appear to be far too elitist.

The hon. member also mentioned interest groups. Interest groups play a vital role in what happens in Canada, the issues of the day. Would he rather see interest groups use government funding to lobby, to use paid advertising, oftentimes with that advertising paid for by taxpayers through their grants by government?

Would the hon. member rather see those interest groups have to go out to the public, to individual Canadians, who are really important, and see if they could get their support by putting their name on a petition that would be brought to this House with the potential that it might actually be debated?

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster in his comments is being perhaps a little unfair in judging the previous Liberal government. Those of us who ran in the 1988 election had fond memories of the very excellent previous Liberal government and we feel that Canadians were duped into voting for the Conservative Party in 1988 because they seemed to believe that free trade would bring unbounded prosperity to Canada. We now know that has not been the case. That was discovered by Canadians, unfortunately, in the period between 1988 and 1993 and the situation has therefore been corrected.

In 1988, in my view, there was no recollection of any disastrous previous Liberal government.

The hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster, as I say, has I think altered history a little in his question. Perhaps when he

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reads my remarks again tomorrow his memory will be refreshed, although I can see it is not sinking in at the moment.

With respect to the question he asked, he knows that what he is trying to do is get me to denounce government funding to interest groups and say that somehow this government funding is inherently bad where interest groups use the money to lobby government. Obviously, some interest groups become a bit of a thorn under the saddle, as it were, for governments, particularly so where the government is already funding the group and paying for it to be such a thorn under the saddle. I am sure he would agree with me that cutting such funding would be very worthwhile.

On the other hand, it is very important that interest groups sometimes be paid, moneyed, in order to represent the interests of the groups that they are seeking to espouse or advance because sometimes the groups are unable to fund themselves and pay for necessary representation. For one reason or another, they are under-represented in our system.

I can think of examples of that, examples that I will not give to the House today because it might exclude some others. I think there are reasons for government to be involved in the funding of interest groups, even where the interest group is using the money to lobby government. Governments sometimes need this kind of lobbying, in part to convince others of the benefits to be derived from government activity or interest in that particular area.

There is an educational role for governments to perform that governments are aided in by interest groups. While the activity may be directed at the government, the effect is to educate the general public on the importance of the subject and sometimes that happens.

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1:40 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon member has made a very eloquent attack upon the reforms of government that the Reform Party has put forward through this motion. I find that what he had to say is quite different from when he spoke to the Reform Party caucus at the time he was presenting himself as we approached the election of the Speaker. I see the difference between what he indicated to us at that time with regard to the reform of this place and some of the reforms that we are advocating.

Some of the things he said in his speech were very interesting to me. He quoted Mr. Burke as stating it was the duty of the member to take into consideration all facets and represent the national good. During the referendum of 1992 we saw all members of this place follow the party line set by their leadership. We saw that of most of them, the vast majority of them. They were not listening to the people.

Therefore, the national good, if it was a national good that was decided in that referendum, was not decided by the elected members of this country. It was decided by the people through a free vote offered by the referendum of that time.

The member has indicated that the system has served us well for 125 years and that all is going smoothly. He has failed to mention the national energy program that was foisted upon the west and decimated the oil industry, the energy industry in that part of the country, and our focus upon the need to reform the Senate, the upper House of Parliament, that could have stopped that unfair legislation at the time, unless he supports the national energy program.

I ask him a general question of whether he sees no merit at all in the attempts that the people of Canada have made through the election of not only reformers but many new members in this House to bring about a more democratic change within this place.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Crowfoot seems to be under a slight misapprehension. I want to say very clearly that I support discussion of some of these proposals and I am not adverse to all of the proposals being put forward by the Reform Party.

However, a fundamental change in our system, such as would happen if recall were adopted for example, I am not a supporter of. I will hear the arguments on it but I have very grave doubts that it will enhance our system. In my view it will damage it.

I quoted Mr. Burke because I think it casts an obligation. The words he used indicate the obligation that is cast on members of Parliament to vote in accordance with their best judgment and it did not mean, and I am sure the member knows this, voting as a block, voting with your party on all occasions. Your best judgment is what is required. That is what Mr. Burke said. He did not say one voted with one's party on all occasions and I did not read any such quote. That is a significant difference. One of the planks that Reform is pushing here is free votes and I did not say I disagreed with that.

The government House leader in his speech on the throne speech debate a few weeks ago indicated that there would be freer votes in this Chamber. I urge the hon. member to read the government House leader's very clear speech that elucidated extensively the government's view on free votes. It was a masterpiece of clarity.

The hon. member indicated that he thought that in the referendum campaign somehow I was ignoring the wishes of my electors. I can only say to the hon. member for Crowfoot that the electors of Kingston and the Islands voted yes, agreeing with me fully in my stand in respect of the national referendum. The yes side won by a narrow margin in Kingston and the Islands and I was very pleased that it agreed with me in my views on the referendum. I suspected it would when I took my position on that whole issue. I supported that cause in the House and as we

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went to the people in the referendum campaign. For him to suggest that somehow members on this side ignored the wishes of their electors is false. I fully represented the wishes of my electors then as now.

Finally I note the member went on about the national energy policy. I was not here when that was devised. I can only say I think it has been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in western Canada since it was implemented, and I do not think that is accurate.

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1:45 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, when citizens take the initiative of creating, organizing and collecting a petition I have observed that they are always highly motivated to do so. A trivial matter does not normally elicit that kind of response. A matter which the people hold dear, something that is very important to them, will result in their coming together, organizing a petition, getting it circulated, collecting names and doing so because they believe it is very important.

It takes a great deal of effort and personal sacrifice on the part of organizers of petitions. The people who sign petitions usually do so with total sincerity and with a genuine support of the cause being promoted. I believe it is very seldom a person will sign a petition without asking very seriously the question: "What am I signing?" I also believe once a petition is started it has another very desirable effect: it generates a lot of discussion so the issue being brought forward is debated by a great number of people in the community. The level of information or the understanding of the topic is enhanced because of the debate.

Therefore the question should arise of what politicians or decision makers do with these petitions. I believe it is the perception of a great number of Canadians that the process by which a petition is handled is that an MP is given a small amount of time in the House to make a supporting speech when the petition is presented. It is recorded in Hansard and other documents as having been presented. Then it appears that the petition is trucked off to a warehouse somewhere. It is very seldom we have any action on the petition. In any case it is extremely seldom that we have any precipitous action or fast action.

I think of one example. In the last little while many petitions have been presented in the House on killer cards. There appear to be a great number of Canadians like me who are more and more concerned about the growing element of violence in society. They say that this is an area where we need to put our finger in the dike, that we need to stop this.

The petitions are pouring in here, but what is done with them? At this stage apparently nothing. I emphasize the word apparently. It is undoubtedly true it has been recognized that the government will respond. However the fact is there must be an increased level of communication with Canadians so they have assurance that when they speak they are heard.

We in Parliament are embarking on a new era. This a new Parliament. Things are now being done differently. We have approximately 200 new members in the House who, like me, are eager to make an impact on the way our country is governed.

I cannot resist quoting from the now famous red book. Some of the ideas in the red book were found earlier in the Reform Party's blue book. That ought not to be surprising since the red book came out during the election period, at a time when politicians seeking re-election had a great interest in finding out what people were thinking. They probably conducted polls, listened to the people at the doors and heard what they were saying, and as a result those things were included in the red book.

We were doing the same thing over a number of years. The process by which our blue book was derived was really quite similar in the sense that we were listening to the people. We heard a great number of people say over and over: "We do not have a true democracy; we have an elected dictatorship". That is a bad word, yet that is the word I kept hearing. They were saying: "We elect these people and once they are elected they have a free hand and they do whatever they want; they do not listen to us on an ongoing basis".

As a result the blue book reflected what the Canadian people were thinking. It came up with these wonderful and much needed concepts about the way our government works: things like petitions, citizens' initiative of which the petition is a form, referendums and recall so that not only at election time but also between elections the people of the country have a say in how they are governed.

I quote one very important sentence from the red book that accurately expresses the feeling of the Canadian people: "The people are irritated with governments that do not consult them".

We must stop to think about the implications. We have had elections anywhere from six months to five years. That is how our elections are occurring and when the people are being heard. If that is satisfactory why are the people irritated with governments that do not consult them? Clearly it is because they are not being consulted between elections. That is the crux of the matter when we think of an efficient way of dealing with petitions, citizens' initiatives, the subjects of recall and of referendums.

If the people are irritated when we do not consult them, how much more irritated they must be when they voluntarily, by petition, bring an issue to us in the House and we leave the perception that we are not paying attention. How much more irritated they are when we ignore the hard work that went into

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the collection of a petition with thousands or tens of thousands of names. We must start listening and acting on what they say.

There is a very important fundamental question. A member opposite made reference not very long ago to the fact that we in the Reform Party keep coming up with these reforms to the parliamentary system. I contend that is really fundamental to everything else. Unless we have a true representative democracy, we will probably never be able to solve the other problems that come to us from time to time. In particular I am thinking of the question of the national debt and the disaster being brought on us by its ever increasing size.

The people are clearly saying that government spending must be brought under control, yet in the context of how the House operates there seems to be no real mechanism to say we will have a balanced budget. There is not a final authority in the House to determine that. The budget is announced to us and we have no real input into it other than to debate it and hope to influence the outcome.

In a true democracy who then holds the final or ultimate authority? We seem quite ready to accede that it is the people. I find it interesting, being a new member of Parliament and from talking to many who have been here before and a great number who are here for the first time, that no one in the House would question the wisdom of the voters in choosing the person they sent here.

The Reform Party and all of us who are members of that party are thinking the people in the west chose very wisely. I am sure members opposite are convinced the voters expressed great wisdom in sending them here. If we can trust the voters to make a decision on whom to send here, on which party to vote for and on which leader to support, should we not also be able to trust them with other issues? This touches on the subject of referendums as well as on the subject before the House today.

There is a large demand out there among the people for a more representative government, for representation in a more democratic style. The people are beginning to insist that they be heard. Their willingness to be governed by legislatures will be withdrawn if we act like dictators.

Furthermore, if we listen more to our people and the message they give through referenda and through petitions, I am convinced we will have wiser decisions. There are many examples where the people in the broad context make better decisions for the country than do those who sit in little islands of isolation.

I look forward to questions or debate of other members.

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1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Carleton—Gloucester, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Elk Island talked about the motion making petitions the subject matter of debate, which I find totally ridiculous, especially the part where it says that petitions will be brought to a vote at the end of the debate.

If Reform members had sat here for the last five years, as I have done, they would realize all the problems this would create. Reform members keep saying that this government and this Parliament spend too much. Does he not recall that the last referendum cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars and does he not realize that holding referendums on almost everything, year in and year out, will cost billions of dollars?

The Reform Party is suggesting that for every petition there be a major debate and major vote. That kind of law or rule could be absolutely divisive. We have heard the Reform Party contest the official languages, for example. It is trying to divide the country further? That is the intent of the Reform Party.

If any of you have ever sat on municipal council, you would probably remember that homeowners on a single street-

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I know the hon. member would want to address the Chair in his question.

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1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Carleton—Gloucester, ON

Mr. Speaker, they would experience, sitting on a city council or municipal council, that often when petitioning a street people are divided on the same topic. They could get 100 people signing the petition, signing yes. Yet on the same street people would be signing on the no side.

How do we verify the correctness of the signature or the age of the people? Who does all of that? What kinds of expenses would we get involved in trying to make sure that every signature was bona fide, that every person signing was of age, that every person signing was not half drunk, or that we are not getting a bunch of loonies or bigots constantly signing petitions who do not believe in the proper process?

We have seen in the case of the member from Markham that people are banding together like lynch mobs in a village trying to hang someone without due process.

Maybe lynching was good in the thirties or sixties of the 19th century in Alabama. In Canada this is not what we want. We are not made up of bigots.

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2 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would simply comment that if the member for Carleton-Gloucester insists on demeaning his

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electors and saying they are bigots when they present their petitions or when they vote on a referendum, that is his choice.

I would choose rather to listen to my constituents, to take very seriously what they say in terms of a referendum or a petition which they present. There may be some difficulties administratively but they can certainly be overcome in our modern technological age and there is great gain to be made by listening more and more to the people who sent us here.

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2 p.m.

The Speaker

It being two o'clock, pursuant to Standing Order 30(5), the House will now proceed to statements by members pursuant to Standing Order 31.

[English]

Acadia Centre For Small Business And Entrepreneurship
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

John Murphy Annapolis Valley—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to extend my congratulations and support for the Acadia Centre for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Today this centre kicks off a week-long conference at Acadia University for people considering a career in self-employment.

The conference, entitled "Exploring Your Future: Learning About Entrepreneurship", will allow participants to determine if self-employment is right for them and if so how they go about starting a business.

Following this conference, 35 participants will be selected for a 14-week employment training program.

Not only does such a conference play an important role in promoting the local community network but it also provides valuable services and information for those wishing to get their new ventures off the ground.

I fully support the efforts of the Acadia Centre for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and ask that the members of this House join me in congratulating the organizers of this important conference.

Snow Surfing World Cup
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, for the second year in a row, the Parc du Mont-Sainte-Anne in the magnificent riding of Beauport-Montmorency-Orléans will play host to the Snow Surfing World Cup from March 9 to March 13, 1994.

The 1993 world cup drew more than 10,000 spectators to the site and the event received extensive media coverage.

Millions of television viewers in Europe, Asia and America watched the competition and in the process, they became better acquainted with Quebec, and in particular with Côte-de-Beaupré and the Parc du Mont-Sainte-Anne.

The second Snow Surfing World Cup at the Parc du Mont-Ste-Anne should once again focus world-wide attention on Quebec as a region, highlighting its distinctive character and the extent of its sports and tourism facilities.

From March 9 to March 13, 1994 the whole world will be watching the Parc du Mont-Ste-Anne.

The Budget
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Okanagan—Similkameen—Merritt, BC

Mr. Speaker, my constituents have overwhelmingly opposed any reduction in the RRSP contribution limits. Reducing these limits is increasing taxes for those ordinary Canadians such as small business owners and employees who use RRSPs as their sole means of preparing for retirement.

I have also received literally hundreds of letters of support for the home buyers plan which is due to expire at the end of this month. This plan utilizes the RRSP program to make home ownership a viable option for many Canadians and has been that rare bird, a successful government program that does not cost the treasury a cent.

I hope that the finance minister has considered these voices of ordinary Canadians as he prepares his upcoming budget.

On behalf of my constituents in Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt, I ask the finance minister to stop speaking in code. Broadening the tax base means raising taxes.

National Heritage Day
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Saint-Denis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address my colleagues in the House on the occasion of National Heritage Day.

The diversity of our country and of its people is expressed in many ways and makes us unique within the community of nations.

Our wealth of cultures, languages and traditions enrich the everyday lives of all Canadians.

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National Heritage Day is an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect upon the meaning and richness of their heritage.

On this Heritage Day Canadians should take this opportunity to remember with pride the contributions of those who have helped to form this great land, appreciate and share the diversity in which our heritage is expressed, strengthen and celebrate the multicultural fabric of Canada.

We in this House have much to celebrate since we are very much an example of that multicultural fabric.

Girl Guides Of Canada
Statements By Members

February 21st, 1994 / 2:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, last Friday evening the Girl Guides of Canada in the city of Scarborough awarded the Canada Cord to five young women from Scarborough Centre.

The Girl Guides' Canada Cord recognizes an individual's dedication and contribution to the Guiding movement, their community and our country.

The five young women are Jennifer Barnes, Analese Campbell, Jandy Morrow, Kristi Tumbling and Jennifer Wright. They have committed their time and efforts over the past three years to earning this award. As valued members of our community, they can be regarded as fine examples of what every young Canadian can aspire to be and I congratulate them.