House of Commons Hansard #199 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was reform.

Topics

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Bloc

Roger Pomerleau Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Concerning old age pensions to how many recipients are benefits paid outside Canada and how do we ascertain that these recipients are still living?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

In 1994 old age security, OAS, pensions were paid to 66,531 individuals outside Canada.

Notification of the death of a recipient may come from a variety of sources, such as: family members, a trustee, a local authority, a returned benefit cheque, or an application for a Canada pension plan death or survivor benefit. As well, controls program unit within income security programs conducts verification checks on an ongoing basis.

There are currently no specific procedures which apply to pensioners outside Canada as compared to pensioners inside Canada. However, the February 1995 budget stated: "Effective July 1, 1996 OAS recipients who are no longer resident in Canada will have to file a statement of their worldwide income in order to continue to receive OAS benefits." This requirement effectively provides a specific verification process.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Point Of Order
Routine Proceedings

May 11th, 1995 / 10 a.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, I would like to make a brief statement about the point of order raised on Monday, May 8, 1995, by the hon. member for Berthier-Montcalm.

The member stated that the Minister of Transport had challenged his integrity during Question Period on May 5. Specifically, the member objected to the minister's remarks that he had betrayed a confidence of the House by revealing information learned in a lock-up.

Lock-ups are information sessions which operate independently from the House. Disagreements about lock-ups therefore are political matters best dealt with at the political level. Further, the member indicated that he had in fact obtained the information in question from press reports.

When the matter was brought to my attention in the House on Monday, I stated that the interpretation of what was said was a matter for debate, but nonetheless promised to take it under advisement, I am still of the view that the words used were not unparliamentary.

That said, let me turn to a related matter which is of great concern to me. When opinions are strongly held, the cut and thrust of debate can go beyond the realm of what may be considered acceptable. It is true that the Speaker must look at the context in which a word is uttered, and the tone used when a word is said, when considering whether a particular word or remark is unparliamentary. As I noted on Monday, members have every right to request that language, when ruled to be unparliamentary by the Chair, be withdrawn.

Standing Order 18 requires members to refrain from using offensive words.

There exist certain words, which, regardless of the tone used or the intention of the user, have, by their very connotation, a tendency to elicit negative reactions from other members. We saw an example of this yesterday when the word "traître" was used in the House. Objections are raised each time this or similar words are uttered. These serve no constructive purpose and, more often than not, deflect the

House's attention away from the serious matters before it. I strongly urge all members to ponder the potential impact of such words before using them.

I hope that members will seriously consider what I have said today and I thank all members for their attention.

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10:10 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

moved:

That this House condemn the government for its failure to keep its red book promise to make the government more open and permitting members of Parliament to be more accountable to their constituents.

Mr. Speaker, I want to inform the House that pursuant to Standing Order 43(2), I and following Reform speakers will be splitting our time.

I am pleased to rise today to debate the Reform motion that condemns the government for its failure to keep its red book promise to make the government more open and permitting MPs to be more accountable to their constituents.

I thumbed through the red book the other day for the first time in a long while. I read the chapter on parliamentary reform and integrity in government. The rhetoric was wonderful. However looking at the history of this Parliament to date, the promises have not been kept and the government needs to be held accountable for that breach of trust with the Canadian public.

The government has failed so miserably in the area of open and honest government that it is starting to make Brian Mulroney's Tories look like saints. Believe me, the Tories certainly are not saints.

The government has been secretive, hierarchical and top down. It has hidden behind every excuse to avoid changing the structure and practices of this place and to avoid divulging information that the public has a right to know.

My reform colleagues and I will demonstrate through debate in the House today that the government has failed the Canadian people through not delivering on the following promises. They failed on their commitment to not use time allocation and closure. They failed on the issue of an independent ethics counsellor. They punish their own backbenchers for putting their constituents first.

The process of sending bills to committee prior to second reading is becoming a sham and the government has reneged on its commitment for more free votes in the House. This government has overused the order in council mechanism to slide through its own agenda. Its members have continued the proud Tory tradition of patronage, both in appointments and in the rewarding of party friends with government contracts without open tender. And the committee structure has made a mockery of democracy because of the overly zealous whipping of Liberal members.

The government has gone out of its way to block and refuse requests for access to information. Interestingly enough, in yesterday's Financial Post there was an article on the gag law, Bill C-114-``the infamous law that would send Canadians to jail for up to five years if they individually or as a group spend more than $1,000 to support or oppose political parties or candidates during a federal election''. The Liberals are supporting this. The article indicates that they may even appeal to the Supreme Court to continue to gag Canadians. They are breaking their promise of not being an open, responsible, and accountable government.

This government has made a number of promises in the red book about openness, democracy, parliamentary reform, and the freedom of members of Parliament to represent their constituents. I along with my Reform colleagues will go page by page through the red book and show how their promises were broken.

We are starting to rip pages out of the red book because they are irrelevant. All we will have left pretty soon is the cover, a hollow shell of what was a grandiose scheme that they presented to the electorate in the last election campaign.

We would all agree that the House of Commons is supposed to be a place of free and open debate, a place where every member should have the opportunity to give the pros and cons to each piece of legislation, particularly to explain to other members how any bill or motion will affect their own constituents. There is a procedural device that puts all that at risk, and the procedure is time allocation, used so many times by this government. Time allocation, or closure, is the most undemocratic of parliamentary procedures. Its only purpose is to stifle debate, robbing members of an opportunity to speak so that the government can ram through its agenda without scrutiny by all members of this House and without every member having an opportunity to place their position on the record if they so choose.

When the Liberals were in opposition they agreed that time allocation was undemocratic and unfair. They howled at the Conservative government whenever time allocation was used. They cried foul, they whined to the media, and they vowed never to use such an evil procedure if they ever got into government.

The previous member for Ottawa-Vanier, now undemocratically ushered into the Senate, said that closure was far from democratic. The member for Winnipeg St. James called it draconian. The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, an

experienced parliamentarian who is also the chair of the justice committee, said that it was a hijacking of democracy. The member for Kingston and the Islands, whose opinion I respect, said it was morally wicked. Those are strong words.

The Conservative government used closure fifteen times during the last Parliament-fifteen times in five years. It sounds pretty bad, and it is. The government has already used closure and time allocation ten times in only two years. This is despite a promise by the Liberal government House leader to use this blunt instrument far less than the Tories did. At this rate, they will pass their old record of 25 uses of time allocation set by the Liberal government in 1980 to 1984.

Despite all the damage the Liberals did to Canada during the 1970s and 1980s, they are in government again today and they are making frequent use of the time allocation measure. They have used time allocation ten times in this Parliament, so they have already made it into double digits, ten times in the short time we have been here since the election. The most undemocratic of parliamentary procedures has never been used so much and so shamelessly.

They brought in time allocation on Bill C-18, an act to interrupt the redistribution of electoral boundaries, at second reading. They brought it in on Bill C-32, the Excise Tax Act, at third reading. They time allocated third reading of Bill C-35, the Department of Citizenship Act. It sounds like a real national crisis.

This was done at both report stage and third reading of Bill C-33 and C-34, dealing with self-government in Yukon. On Bill C-68, currently being debated in committee, they implemented time allocation at second reading. The government time allocated the second reading debate on Bill C-76, the Budget Implementation Act.

Only in one case was the use of time allocation justified. That was in the case of a national emergency, an act to end the national rail strike. In this justifiable case, Reformers cooperated fully with the government.

It is well worth looking at the nature of the bills the government pushed through the House without full debate. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act is itself an undemocratic measure and was rushed through. Obviously the government was showing little shame in what it was doing. It was trying to limit the amount of public discussion on the bill. Other bills show a similar pattern: the Excise Act, self-government acts, gun control acts, budget implementation, all bills that try to pull a fast one on the taxpayers or on Canadian citizens.

It is clear the Liberals feel that if they do not like the nature of a debate, if they get uncomfortable over on the other side about the attention the opposition is focusing on some of their initiatives, they simply want to cut off the debate; they will not talk about it. This is unacceptable. This is undemocratic, and the government went out of its way to profess it would never do such a thing.

The Liberals have gone back on their word ten times already on this issue of closure alone. When they break their word so often and so easily, how can they expect anyone to believe them at all? It is no wonder the Canadian public is beginning to tire of the unethical and politics as usual actions of the government.

Another great promise of the government was that it was to open up the legislative process and allow more MPs the opportunity to have input into the creation of bills. The government announced it would allow certain bills to go to committee before second reading so members could have some input before the bill was written in stone. We have seen with Bill C-45, an inadequate correction of the Parole Act, and with Bill C-64, an act dealing with employment equity regarding the public service, which is currently before committee, that the government has kept and is keeping a short leash on its members in committee to ensure that no significant changes will be made to these bills while they are in committee.

It is a done deal. The government knew these bills were out of touch with common sense Canadians, so it was vigilant not to let public opinion or reasoned debate from the opposition sway their members. All the talk and bluster from the government benches has been a sham. There has never been any intent to accept any advice or input from their own backbenchers, let alone someone from the opposition side.

I wonder how my friends on the government back benches feel about the amount of input they do not have in the legislative process. On Bill C-68 and Bill C-41 we have heard that the members on the other side are very concerned about these measures. These and the budget are all good examples of how the cabinet views the opinions of rank and file Liberal members. They are told to toe the line; they must be team players and back the party on this one. The trouble is that every single vote comes up as another "this one". Get in line, folks.

I want to bring up the issue of the position of the Speaker. This is a very interesting promise made by the Liberals while they were in opposition. They produced a document entitled "Reviewing Parliamentary Democracy". It sounds really good. They always pick such nice words. It sounds really nice. What are the actions involved?

I quote from that document from the section dealing with the Chair:

In order to enhance the independence of the Chair and in an effort to reduce the level of partisanship, when the Speaker is from the Government party, two of the junior Chair Officers should be from the opposition, so that the four presiding officer positions are shared equally by Government and Opposition.

That was Liberal policy. That is what they took into the election. They broke that promise. It is just one of many promises they have blatantly broken, with no intention to keep them whatsoever. That is wrong. Canadians need to know about it. Whenever we start talking about these issues we are cut off in debate. That is brutally unfair and brutally undemocratic.

The document was authorized by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, the member for Kingston and the Islands. It was authored by the current government whip, by the Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs, who I see sitting in his seat across the way, and the minister of public works. These people signed their names to this promise and they did not keep it.

I wonder why it was not done. Is the government trying to set a record for the number of promises it can break, for the number of times it can go back on its word in one Parliament? What a sad case this is.

The government has failed completely on the issue of ethics, accountability to constituents, parliamentary reform, commitment to fairness, and equality of all members of the House.

I appreciate the chance to explain to the House why we are so concerned about our rights and freedoms as members of Parliament to function in an atmosphere where we can be effective, truly represent our constituents, and truly add to the dignity of this place in a manner Canadians deserve.

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10:25 a.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, today is a very important debate for Canadian people because it goes right to the root of our democratic rights. It is very important in this country that we recognize that democracy is something that has to be looked after. It has to be protected. We have to be vigilant in the protection of our democratic rights.

Democracy means rule by the people. It is not an exaggeration to say that in this country we have far from rule by the people. We have rule by the party. That is an abuse of democracy, which must be fought vigorously. Every single citizen is responsible to make sure that our country remains a democracy. The people whose money is being spent, whose future is being decided, and whose country is at stake must take a responsibility to be vigilant in this area.

We have 295 members of Parliament who represent the people. The people have put us in this place on their behalf to examine the laws that are being proposed, to look after their money that is being spent, to make sure that their long term interests are protected in advance.

What do we have? The government has never lost a single vote on a government bill. Why? Because the government has the most members in the Chamber. Is it really the wishes of all the government members that carry the day in this place? The answer is clearly no. If government members dare to listen to their constituents who have concerns about the effect of certain legislation they are punished as severely as possible. If they are punished publicly, can you imagine what goes on behind closed doors, the threats? They are told to get into line or they will be sorry. That is a sad way to run a country, and it must be attacked. It must be corrected.

I read the document my hon. friend referred to that was put out by the Liberals before the last election, and I thought this is good, this is what I have been thinking should be done: more freedom for bills in committees, more free votes, more independence for the Speaker of the House. All those things that were talked about are so badly needed in Parliament. Yet as soon as they were elected the Liberals turned their backs on their own document, on their own promises.

This cannot be tolerated by the Canadian people. They have a right to expect that when people put their name to a document, when they stand and campaign on promises that real reforms and real democracy will come into the House, there will be a real commitment to follow through, not a cynical abrogation of those promises as quickly as possible.

We have to look facts in the face in this country. The people who really call the shots are the Prime Minister, his advisers, and some members of the cabinet. The country is run by a very small group of people. That cannot be tolerated.

Our own mother government of Britain, which our Canadian Parliament is modelled after, has had free votes where members are free to vote the wishes of their constituents and the members are not whipped into line by their parties. They have had that for over 20 years in Great Britain. Yet in this country we tolerate a small group of people who force their will, their agenda, their viewpoint on a whole country without proper and open debate.

In a year and a half on critical bills, on bills that have long term consequences for the country, we have had debate stifled and cut off 10 times with many more to come. Why do we stand still as citizens for this sort of thing? Why do we not send a message to the Liberals who are governing the country that we simply will not tolerate this any more, that we will have open debate, that our elected representatives will have a chance to address the issues and get them out before the

public and will be free to then vote the way they know their constituents' interests are best fulfilled, best responded to and best served?

It is absolutely critical we get serious about this whole area of how our democracy works. We all know the saying, and sometimes these sayings are so profound they have simply become trivial and commonplace to us, the price of freedom is constant vigilance.

It is absolutely critical that in the rules of the House, the way we conduct ourselves and interact as parliamentarians upholds those high standards of democracy and representation are so much at the heart of what we hold dear.

It is very important that Canadians listen to the debate today, recognize what we are trying to say, need to move toward more democratic measures. Many of my colleagues will be outlining exactly how these democratic measures will work in practice and in reality.

Other stable mature democracies have many of the measures we have proposed for several years. Those democracies give so much more scope and respect to the real wishes of the people being served. It is important to recognize we do not want to be governed by a small group of people. We do not want to be governed by people who then force, coerce and impose their will on the rest of the country. Their viewpoint is often not anywhere close to what common sense people in the real world think and feel about issues.

The foundations of the values and ethics that underlie much of what we have done in the country are being questioned, attacked and changed in ways we have to look at and debate.

In Bill C-68 individual liberties we have held dear in the country for decades, since the founding of our country, are being abrogated. In debate this does not come out. This is not something we should take lightly.

There are many things in the bills that come before Parliament that Canadians have a right to have brought out by the parliamentarians they have elected to represent their interests. They have a right to have those views endorsed in the votes in the House.

When Canadians see a party or a government telling its members to vote the way they are told to by the top people in the organization or they will be sorry, punished and deprived of their right to have input into the proceedings of the House, it is time for Canadians to stand up and say: "I don't think so. We will not have our country run that way. We will not vote for a party that will do these things. We will not support this way of running our affairs".

I appeal to Canadians today to watch this debate, listen to this debate, to do what has to be done to put their will forward so our country is run in a fair, open and democratic way, a way that serves our best interests both now and in the long term.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems members at this end of the Chamber have very short memories.

I have been very impressed with the concept of private members' bills. I have noticed even one of our members has been able to proceed with a private member's bill from its inception all the way through to legislation. I do not think that has happened for a long time in the House.

Once again, our memory is a little short. The member for Mission-Coquitlan recently had her own private members' bill referred to a committee.

I have spoken to some of our legislative counsel and I have discovered that in Britain, the model of our Parliament, this system is very much undemocratic. The members do not have a lottery system like we have in the House. The individual member is picked and then formulates a bill.

In that country the government uses its members to introduce government legislation rather than reaffirming the rights and independence of individual members.

I would like the member to comment on the relationship of introducing their own private members' bills and referring them to committee as part of our democratic and legislative process which is very real in the House.

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10:35 a.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, the country is not run on private members' bills. It is run by governments by their own legislation, by their own programs. Private members' bills have a minuscule impact on what happens in the country. It is good that we have the freedom to bring forward private members' bills. It is also to the credit of the House that sometimes common sense, workable proposals get through the House.

Nobody ever said the system had no good things to it. Clearly it has many good things. However, it is important to remember there are critical areas in which this place is very undemocratic.

I know the Liberals will point to the small things they see as being workable in the House, and well they should. What we really need to address are the big, gaping holes in the democratic workings which have to be fixed. I urge the member to look at what can be fixed, made better and what could be more democratic, rather than clinging to the very small pieces of wood in the ocean.

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10:35 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. The member for Calgary North serves on the human resources development committee. It travelled extensively across Canada to look at reforms to

Canada's social programs and safety nets. This was with the support of the Minister of Human Resources Development.

My understanding is that while there may have been some flaws in the process, the committee worked very hard travelling across Canada. Its work was totally ignored by the government.

I would like to find out whether whether the member for Calgary North could confirm my suspicions.

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10:35 a.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, the process of consulting with Canadians whose interests are being served in these exercises is very important. Not only were ordinary Canadians virtually closed out of the consultation process, but even the recommendations from parliamentarians on the committee have yet to do anything but occupy a dusty shelf somewhere.

It is a disgrace to pretend we are really seeking the best solutions when even recommendations from the government side and our own dissenting opinion on that report simply went nowhere.

There is a long way to go before committees of the House really act like committees and deal with substantive issues and the recommendations are vigorously respected and put into place.

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10:35 a.m.

Saint-Léonard
Québec

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Secretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am proud and honoured to participate in this debate, since our government's achievements in the last 18 months in terms of parliamentary reform, integrity, openness and fulfilment of our election promises are unprecedented in Canadian history.

I think that the motion put forward by the Reform Party is rather contradictory with regard to our red book commitments to Canadians, which the Reform Party has been doing its utmost to oppose and derail without success day after day.

In fact, there is nothing surprising about this, as the Reform Party is not afraid of contradictions. It has even become a kind of expert in this area. In the next few minutes, I will be pleased to list some of our achievements that have been instrumental in restoring Canadians' confidence in their national government.

Since the motion refers to our red book, you will not be surprised, Mr. Speaker, to hear me refer to it throughout my speech in order to evaluate our government's performance. What did the red book say about parliamentary reform? Allow me to quote from page 92 of the red book: "In the House of Commons, a Liberal government will give MPs a greater role in drafting legislation, through House of Commons committees. These committees will also be given greater influence over government expenditures. More free votes will be allowed in the House of Commons, and individual members of Parliament will be involved in an effective pre-budget consultation process".

What did we do in this regard? We introduced two new processes in addition to the one already in place allowing MPs to consider bills, so that members can become directly involved in drafting legislation and enjoy greater autonomy in amending government bills through the committee system.

The first process consists in the government tabling a bill at first reading and then, after a maximum three hour debate followed by a vote if necessary, referring it to a committee before second reading instead of after, and before agreement in principle. This allows the committees to hold extensive hearings and to amend bills without being restricted by the need for an agreement in principle following debate at second reading.

As a result, the committees can propose major amendments to the bills. Our government used this new process four times, including for the lobbyists registration bill. The second process consists in allowing a minister or a member of Parliament to table a motion directing a committee to draft a bill on an issue concerning private members' business. That process was used in the case of Bill C-69, the legislation dealing with the readjustment of electoral boundaries.

The government, through the Standing Committee on Finance, also conducted the largest prebudget consultation ever held in Canada, something which will be done before every budget. Thanks to this consultation exercise, the government was able to not only involve MPs, but all Canadians in the federal budgetary process. Members of Parliament, through the standing committees, now review, on a yearly basis, the government's future spending priorities, in addition to examining the main estimates for the current year.

A number of debates also take place in the House of Commons, during which MPs can freely express their views on major issues, before the government makes a final decision. For example, I can mention the debates on Canada's peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia, sustainable development, the social program reform, small and medium size businesses, fiscal policy, violence against women, and many other upcoming topics.

Through our committees, we also reviewed the major reforms to Canada's foreign and defence policies, immigration and social programs.

What was the Reform Party's position regarding these parliamentary reforms? The hon. member for Lethbridge actually thanked the government, on behalf of his party, for providing such a wide scale program.

He went even farther. Indeed, he added that the Reform Party was also pleased that the proposals to be submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will

deal with a large number of issues which his party feels are important to ensure a reform of the parliamentary process. These comments are not from me; they were made by the Reform member for Lethbridge.

To fully understand the position adopted by the Reform Party during the debate on parliamentary reform, let us take a look at what the leader of that party, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest had to say about our proposals. He said that, generally speaking, these changes seek to allow MPs to play a major role in the development of private members' public bills and the government's fiscal policy, adding that this was a definite improvement. Again, these comments were made by the Reform Party leader.

Members of the Liberal caucus vote freely as regards private members' business. For example, last night, a private member's bill was referred to a committee, after going through second reading in the House.

As for government business, the Reform Party would like to see more free votes. Yet, as the NDP member for Winnipeg Transcona said, in the final analysis, there is not one single member in this House who cannot vote freely and differently than his or her party or leader, any time he or she chooses to do so.

It is therefore surprising to hear the Reform Party-

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10:45 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

If they do not want to lose their positions in committee.

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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Saint-Léonard, QC

The Reform Party came to this place to restore decorum and when its members do not like what they hear they heckle. That is the decorum they bring.