Debates of Nov. 20th, 2002
House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.
- University of Guelph
- Senate of Canada
- Human Rights
- Science and Technology
- National Child Day
- Vanessa Bilodeau and Catherine Mongeau
- Sir Wilfrid Laurier
- Young Offenders Act
- Sir Wilfrid Laurier
- National Child Day
- Sir Wilfrid Laurier
- Employment Insurance
- Kyoto Protocol
- North American Free Trade Agreement
- Book Publishing Industry
- Financial Institutions
- Goods and Services Tax
- Budget Surplus
- Goods and Services Tax
- Budget Surplus
- Criminal Code
- Correctional Service Canada
- Goods and Services Tax
- National Defence
- Coast Guard
- National Defence
- Presence in Gallery
- Public Safety Act, 2002
- Points of Order
- Office of the Ethics Counsellor
- Government Response to Petitions
- Committees of the House
- Criminal Code
- Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
- Official Languages Act
- Fishers' Bill of Rights
- Health Information Privacy Act
- Appendix to
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 24
- Question No. 27
- Question No. 28
- Motions for Papers
- Request for Emergency Debate
- Parliamentary Reform
- Canada Labour Code
Request for Emergency Debate
November 20th, 2002 / 3:55 p.m.
Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB
Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the requirement of the Standing Orders I hereby give notice that I am applying for an emergency debate today concerning the inadequate funding of Canada's defence forces.
The Minister of Industry has stated in an interview that our military requires additional money to purchase equipment, to train personnel, and to meet global demands. The Minister of National Defence as well has stated that there is a need for money, but he is having a difficult time convincing the government.
We know what is happening in Iraq. We know that the government of the U.S.A. has come forward and asked Canada to participate. Right now we cannot. We are truly in dire need.
It is time for a debate in the House with regard to funding, CF-18s, Sea Kings, and submarines that cannot even be used, for heaven's sake. There is so much debate that needs to take place. It should be the number one priority for the government.
Request for Emergency Debate
The Deputy Speaker
With the greatest of respect that the Chair has for the hon. member for Saint John, in my opinion I regret that her submission does not meet all of the exigencies at this time.
I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded divisions government orders will be extended by 20 minutes.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
That this House take note of proposals for modernization and improvement of the procedures of the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in today's take note debate on the modernization of the House of Commons. Parliament is an evolutionary institution that we must continually modernize to meet the varied needs of parliamentarians and all Canadians.
Since this government came to office under the very capable leadership of the right hon. Prime Minister, in 1993, we have been guided by the idea that parliamentary reform is necessary to restore public confidence in Parliament and to end the erosion of its role that began under the previous government.
We went to work right away in 1993 to implement our electoral promises. As a result, members are now involved in the budget process thanks to the annual prebudget consultations held by the Standing Committee on Finance. This work done by the finance committee has now become an institution. Canadians from across the country come to meet their members and tell them that they wish to speak before the committee during the prebudget consultations.
Members, Liberal members at any rate, vote freely on all private members' bills. There are free votes within our party, more than 100 since 1993. I encourage other parties to adopt this modernization one day. Fifteen private members' bills have become law since 1993, far more than under any other government in Canadian history.
Members participate in take note debates on major national and international questions. There have been 43 of these since 1993, or 44 counting today's.
We call upon the appropriate House committees to make recommendations on draft bills, such as the one on the ethics commissioner position, which is currently with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
More bills go to a committee before second reading. This procedure was established by my predecessor, the Right Honourable Herb Gray, whom I may call by name now that he is no longer a parliamentarian. This gives members an opportunity to propose a broader range of amendments. Since 1993, the government has submitted 34 bills to committees prior to second reading.
The government has improved its reports to Parliament in connection with the budget, in order to help the committee examine government spending.
In 1997 we amended a whole series of standing orders in order to reflect the presence of the five parties in Parliament. I would remind hon. members that, at that time, the leaders were: the member for Langley—Abbotsford, with whom I worked closely, once we had the five parties, to improve the way the system was working, the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, the member for Winnipeg, and the same leader of the Bloc Quebecois as we have now.
We had to work together to change a whole series of standing orders in order to make Parliament workable in a totally extraordinary situation—there had never before been a parliament with five political parties—and we managed to do it.
In 2001, after the 2000 election, we tabled the changes in the House of Commons. In order to facilitate the legislative process, the House clarified the Speaker's role with respect to motions at report stage.
The process we were using was an archaic one, as hon. members will recall, and it had us voting all night to change a comma or semicolon, or something equally minor. It was not modern; we have modernized the Parliamentary rules in order to make them better.
This was another initiative taken by our Prime Minister. He had mentioned it in his red book. We provided an additional $1 million to the Library of Parliament for its Research Branch for parliamentarians. This is modernization. An additional $900,000 was earmarked for the research services of political parties and caucuses.
Based on the questions that are put to us in the House of Commons, it is not always obvious that these political parties received additional research money, but they actually did. The salaries paid to hon. members are more transparent and much more in line with those of similar groups in our society.
We had a strange way, to say the least, of remunerating parliamentarians. This made Canadians wonder about the whole process. That process was not particularly generous, but it did not match that of other Canadians. Therefore, we changed it.
The budgets of hon. members were increased by $20,000 and their accommodation allowance by $3,000. So, a whole series of changes were made.
In 2001, Mr. Speaker, under your excellent chairmanship, we had the modernization committee. At that time we modified 26 standing orders. Now the Leader of the Opposition can refer two sets of estimates to committee of the whole. That was unprecedented.
The House can require 30 minute debates when we have time allocation and closure. There used to be a situation where members of Parliament were questioning and they would stand on points of order, or alleged points of order, about whether the government was justified in moving time allocation when the opposition delays bills, which it does from time to time. Now there is a formal process to do that. There is a half-hour question period.
More take note debates are being held. As a regular part of the House leaders' agenda, every week now is the subject of take note debates. The House leaders of every party can go there and raise the concerns of their various caucuses about what the subject of a take note debate should be.
As a matter of fact we were asked in the House of Commons today whether we should have a debate about some international treaty or other to which I answered that it was a fine subject for the House leader of that particular member's party to bring forward. This has been a very useful process, particularly since September 11. We have to raise a number of issues in debate in the House.
We have simplified the process for emergency debates. We now have them in committee of the whole, based a little on the U.K. example where members can congregate around the clerk's table in a way that makes for a debate that is less formal.
We have changed the number of weeks that we sit to permit people to be with their families during March.
We now have deferred votes immediately after question period. We did so today.
We have made the appointment of all officers of Parliament subject to House of Commons approval, formalizing what had been, to a degree, an informal practice. Now we have that. Should a new clerk be appointed many years from now when our clerk retires, that would be the subject of a vote in the House should the House demand a vote on that. That was not previously provided for in the rules.
In 2002, we are again responding to the changing interests of members.
We have had modernization of our rules in the current year. I am not only speaking of what happened last week. The royal assent bill was passed which allows royal assent to be given to legislation through a written procedure. The way they have done it in the U.K. for countless years, we now have it here at the House of Commons.
We have established a new Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and created the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
We have adopted a procedure for making all private members' business items votable.
The House agreed to require the election of committee chairs by secret ballot, although the process by which we reached that was not one about which I was personally overenthusiastic, as the Chair would know.
We are here today to talk about the 2002 modernization committee. The 2001 committee report stated that there were to be other procedural changes. It was in 2001, Mr. Speaker, again under your able chairmanship, that we stated that we wanted to have another modernization committee report after the next election. We are here now. We will have the second modernization committee. Following consultation with other House leaders, we have agreed to start the modernization committee to consider further improvements to House rules.
I am pleased that House leaders of all parties have looked at this as enthusiastically as I have. The difference this time, though, is that House leaders felt that if they were accompanied by perhaps a representative from their various caucuses it would not be just House leadership participating in it, but others like caucus chairs, or other people should they not be available, would be a useful addition to the process. Since procedural changes affect all members, it makes sense to do it that way.
I want to take just a couple of moments and give the House a few ideas of the changes as I see them, respectfully. Other members will contribute and I hope that at the end, as we did last time when we came back for a second round of debate about changes in the House of Commons, we will do that again once we have consulted our caucuses and once we have worked on this for some time.
I want to suggest to my colleagues that the U.K. and Australia have made a number of useful changes and we should inform ourselves of what those two jurisdictions have done and inspire ourselves with what they have done.
The U.K. has finished the second phase of its modernization. It has moved the time for question period. I am not sure we should do that, but we should at least consider what it is doing to see what the benefits are. The U.K. has agreed to the programming of legislative stages of bills. It has a process by which to agree on the overall time for when a bill starts and when it ends. If it spends more time in committee, it spends less time at report stage and so on. We would ascribe an overall time and then we would decide whether we want a lot of House debate, a lot of committee debate and so on, within that set timeframe. Is that something that would interest us? I think we should at least look at it.
The U.K. and Australia have adopted a chamber parallel to the House of Commons. Westminster Hall in the U.K., for instance, debates issues of local concern. Australia has what it calls the main committee, which considers legislation later on in the process. To what extent, for instance, could this kind of chamber be used to debate committee reports, concurrences and other things like that? I do not know. There are a number of things that perhaps should be done in this kind of forum, which would be something superior to a committee but a little less than what the House is. Perhaps it could be televised all the time when it sits, a little like we have for some committees.
Anyway, these are ideas.
I want to raise the issue of reinstatement of government bills after prorogation. We do that for private members' bills. The Quebec National Assembly does this already. Phase two of the U.K. modernization committee has recommended it. Why are we not doing that here? It seems a little inconsistent to go through a procedural motion and two days of debate and closure to do that which we should do on the very first day. Why do we not just do it? We do it for private members' bills, so we have established that it is a good process.
What about committee review and the ability of whips to apply a previous vote to a successive vote, structuring what we do most of the time anyway in a way that would enable whips to work more closely together? Why not do that or why not at least explore doing that?
What about this idea of concurrence in committee reports and ways in which we could deal with this? We have reports where no concurrence is sought by the committee and concurrence is moved in the House, or we ask the government to comment but we move concurrence before the government has. Surely there is something wrong with that procedure. It seems to me that it needs modernization.
How about changing Standing Order 104, which requires committee memberships to be re-established and start all over again every September? I have been in a whip position. I have been deputy whip, as it were, in opposition and deputy and chief whip in government. I have never yet figured out what this is supposed to do except give a giant headache for about one month in September of every year to anybody who is a whip. Perhaps we should look at this and instead have membership expire only when there is a new session. Anyway, it is a theme that the committee should look at.
How about reviewing Standing Order 43 to allow a process to move to 10 minute speeches for a government motion? There is an anomaly here between government bills and government motions. Government bills fall to 10 minutes after a certain period of debate while government motions remain at 20. Perhaps that is just an oversight, but it does not look right and I am sure it is not right. Of course, as I said, I am sure that it is accidental.
What about modern technology to be used for members of Parliament? We do not even have electronic voting in here. Electronic voting is one issue, but it is not the only one involving technology, and I do not want to make it look like the be-all and end-all.
What about encouraging our colleagues to have more functional websites? We have a greater use of technology with which to consult Canadians, for instance. What about the webcast of House of Commons committees proceedings? What about electronic filing of motions? Why do we have to physically send a written motion to the office in 2002, in the most technologically advanced nation on earth, which I think we are? Surely there is something wrong with that. We could advance those processes and make them more modern.
Some would argue that some drafting initiatives regarding plainer language should be looked at. I am a little nervous about that one, but it is still something that we should explore to see what others do. I would like to move perhaps a little more slowly than others in that area, but still, I do not think it would be a modernization debate without at least raising this.
The purpose of this debate, today and tomorrow, is to consult our colleagues on this initiative. I am looking forward to hearing the advice of my colleagues from both sides of the House. I welcome this opportunity to work with the other House leaders on this initiative, as we have done previously. Of course, this time, it will be with the leaders and other representatives who will be sitting with them.
I must say, to conclude, that as the sole member of the group of leaders and ministers, my duties will force me to leave momentarily to chair a cabinet meeting. I may therefore miss some of what my hon. colleagues will say. I will come back to the House later. There is no lack of respect intended. I have already indicated to the Leader of the Opposition in the House that I may not be able to catch all of his presentation.
I will be back later, however, and I will also be following the debates in the House tomorrow. I look forward to working with my colleagues, and you too, Mr. Speaker, I hope, if you agree to chair this committee, once it has been formally established.
If I assess the modernization work done so far, that is phase I, it has been greatly successful, well run and well managed. There has been excellent participation by parliamentarians from all parties, without any partisanship, so that together, we can make this great institution for which we all have respect grow.
I thank my hon. colleagues. Later, when I have a chance to come back to the House, I will listen with interest to their remarks, which I hope will be constructive ones. I hope that mine were. I urge members, today and tomorrow, to express their concerns about the rules and about how we could improve this House of Commons, which is so dear to us.
The Deputy Speaker
I note that some members are wondering if there are to be questions and comments. The Chair's understanding is that in fact the first two speakers of course have unlimited time and there are no questions or comments until we actually get to the third party to speak. Of course with unanimous consent the chamber can do anything it wants. I will leave it at that.
John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC
Mr. Speaker, I know that the government House leader must go to a cabinet meeting. I will make sure he gets my notes and I am sure he will anxiously have his staff tape my speech so he can watch it tonight to help put him to sleep.
I am very happy to participate in this modernization committee debate. The first thing I would like to discuss is a recommendation from our Building Trust II document, which my party presented here at the start of this Parliament. I would also at this time like to thank my colleague from Fraser Valley who initially a couple of years ago brought in a document called Building Trust I, which was followed by a modernization committee.
Mr. Speaker, you chaired our modernization committee meetings, which were very fruitful and brought forth some very positive changes here in the House of Commons.
The issue I want to address surfaced two weeks ago during the procedural wrangling over the vote on the secret ballot elections at all committees. What Canadian Alliance is recommending in Building Trust II is that the Standing Orders be amended to ensure that motions to concur in committee reports be put to a vote. This recommendation seems rather minor on the surface, but its impact on the authority of committees would be huge.
As hon. members know, the authority of parliamentary committees stems from the adoption of their reports by the House. Prior to the adoption of the McGrath committee recommendations in the mid-1980s, committees could deal only with the matters referred to them by the House. They could not undertake studies or make recommendations without being directed to do so by the House. Giving committees freedom from this restriction was probably the most important committee reform that came out of the package of reforms. However, this was only the first step. Other steps are required to give committees true independence and real authority.
The second step toward the goal of freedom and democracy for committees came two weeks ago, when the House adopted a Canadian Alliance motion that amended Standing Order 106 and introduced secret ballot elections at committees. This reform will enhance the independence of the chairmen, releasing them from the heavy-handed control of the Prime Minister's Office.
What is missing is a mechanism to ensure that motions to concur in reports come to a vote. This is vital to the authority of committees. Currently, the government, simply by talking on a report for a morning, can prevent a report coming to a vote. In these cases, the motion to concur in a report becomes a government order and can thereafter be moved only by a cabinet minister.
I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the order paper. There we will find the concurrence motions regarding the report of the procedure and House affairs committee calling for secret ballot elections at committee. Below each motion to concur in the committee report is a note in italics, which reads “Cannot be moved (see Government Business No. 5)”.
How did that happen? The simple answer is that the government leadership did not want that report to come to a vote. The government suspected, and it was correct, that this report would get the support of the majority of members of the House and the government did not want that to happen. As we saw on Thursday, November 19, 2002, the government moved the concurrence motion and talked it out until 2 p.m., at which point the motion was automatically adjourned and the motion became a government order, to be moved at the prerogative of the cabinet. What kind of power do these committees really enjoy when their reports, which are where their powers lie, can be shelved by a few government members delivering their canned speeches?
We ended up getting a vote on the secret ballot procedure for committees through a supply day, but even after that it did not come easy. The government House leader went to extraordinary efforts to try to derail a vote on our supply motion. He was expecting a double hit for his manoeuvre to talk out and shelve the committee report. He argued that because the concurrence motion was moved and adjourned, the Alliance motion dealing with the same subject matter should not be allowed to be moved. Not only was he not satisfied with complete control over committee reports, he wanted complete control over the subject matter of supply motions.
His obsession for total control is reflective of his master, the Prime Minister. By seeking such control for a lame duck Prime Minister, the government House leader, and I do not like to say this because he is a good friend and a colleague, has become a lame duck himself. He should have known enough to say no to the Prime Minister. It is not that difficult to do so. He should have joined the 56 members of his caucus who did say no. He at least would be on the right side of the parliamentary reform debate. His reputation going into the next phase of modernizing the House has been tarnished by his actions to prevent a simple reform such as secret ballot elections at committee from going forward.
Getting back to committees and the government manoeuvre to shelve their reports, when the media refer to committees as powerful, as they sometimes do, they do so out of ignorance. Committees have no power while this government manoeuvre exists.
The government House leader has suggested in the past that we restrict the moving of concurrence motions until the government has had a chance to respond to a committee report. Not all committee reports deal with the government. We did not need the government's opinion on secret ballot elections at committee. This was, as the Prime Minister said, a matter of procedure and a matter for the House.
Reports sending for persons and papers have nothing to do with the opinions of the government. Most likely the committee is responding to a stubborn government department that refuses to comply with a committee's request. Reports defending the authority of the committee in matters of contempt have nothing to do with the government. It is the height of arrogance to assume that every report needs the government's approval before proceeding.
Once we get the independence of committees straightened out by ensuring that their recommendations can come to a vote in the House, we need to give them a little more power over government appointments.
The resistance for this reform is once again the Prime Minister but he has a new partner. His tag team partner is none other than the member for LaSalle—Émard. Both the Prime Minister and the member for LaSalle—Émard believe that the House should not enjoy a veto over order in council appointments that do not deal with officers of parliament. They base their beliefs on the notion that they are preserving parliamentary tradition and responsible government.
How wrong they are. Let us consider a few responsibilities of the government and the role of the House.
Legislation that proposes to spend money required a royal recommendation and, while it is the exclusive right of the cabinet to attach such royal recommendations to legislation, the final decision to proceed with legislation rests with the House. If the House does not concur in the government's legislation the legislation dies.
Let us consider the government's other prerogative, the way in which taxpayer money is spent. Through the estimates process, the final say as to that spending rests again with the House. Raising taxes through ways and means motions are another exclusive prerogative of the government, yet it can only continue if the House permits it. The government proposes officers of parliament, yet it is the House that has the authority to ratify or deny such appointments.
Let us recap. The House has a veto over government legislation. It has a veto over how the government spends money. It has a veto over the government's prerogative to change a tax. It has a veto over the appointment of officers of parliament.
How can the Prime Minister and the member for LaSalle—Émard possibly argue that it is inconsistent or unparliamentary for the House to have a veto over order in council appointments? Clearly, it is inconsistent for these appointments to be excluded from the veto power of the House.
How do we see this power being exercised by the House? It would begin with committees. We do not expect them to review every appointment. In cases where an appointment is particularly bad, and Alfonso Gagliano is an excellent example, committees should have the power to review and recommend that an appointment be withdrawn or not proceeded with. The House should then have the opportunity to vote on the committee's recommendation through concurrence of its report.
You can now see how this all fits together, Mr. Speaker.
During the public debate on secret ballot elections at committee, the television media used the review process of Mr. Gagliano's appointment as an example of how a partisan chairman, chosen by the Prime Minister, can hinder the independence of committees. We saw on the news how the chairman of the committee reviewing Mr. Gagliano's appointment acted very partisan. She was not acting in the interest of the committee process but in the interest of the Prime Minister. The media was suggesting that had the chair been duly elected by the committee the outcome might have been very different.
If all the reforms I am recommending here today were in place I believe the outcome of that particular committee review would have been very different. The chairman, being elected by a committee, would likely allow the committee to do its work if the committee were free to decide that the appointment of Mr. Gagliano should be removed, which I think most members and Canadians believe, then it could report that recommendation to the House and the House would be given the opportunity to consider the recommendation of the committee without procedural obstacles and with the powers to remove an appointment. Canadians would not have the embarrassment of having as their ambassador to Denmark, Alfonso Gagliano.
I want to comment on the authority of the House with respect to motions calling on the government to take action. We have passed motions calling for action and often the government does not take that action. The establishment of the sex offender registry is one great example. Going back over 10 years there was the NDP motion regarding child poverty. Both were ignored yet passed by the House.
When the House passed a motion directing the procedure and House affairs committee to make all private members' business votable, the government's first reaction was to throw up its hands and give up.
On October 24, 2002, the House adopted a motion that read:
That, before the Kyoto Protocol is ratified by the House, there should be an implementation plan that Canadians understand, that sets out the benefits, how the targets are to be reached and its costs.
My concern is that the government is planning on ignore the motion and ratify the Kyoto protocol without regard to the conditions of the motion passed in the House. However the motion is different from motions calling on the government to act. The motion refers to the House only.
The House, by adopting that motion, placed a restriction on itself from considering any motion or legislation that would ratify the Kyoto protocol until certain conditions are met. When the government voted for that motion it probably did not consider that angle. We will no doubt be arguing that one in the weeks to come so I will return to the type of motions that give an instruction to the government because there are certain things that private members cannot do and the House would have to rely on the government to act, such as changes to a tax, spending money, et cetera.
If motions that call on the government to act are not binding then what good are they? Most of my speech addressed the lack of authority afforded committees but we have a more serious problem with the lack of authority of the House with respect to these types of motions.
We must find a way to ensure that the government gives effect to the motions that the House passes. If it is a matter of disrespect, then perhaps through its powers of contempt it can enforce its authority in obvious cases when the government ignores the wishes of the House. There may be budgetary restraints that give the government legitimate reasons not to comply but there are some examples where the government is obviously being very dismissive of a motion.
The other reforms we need to look at are supporting the election of senators who would then have a democratic mandate to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. We can start by encouraging the Prime Minister to appoint senators who have been elected. At present there is an Alberta vacancy and an Alberta senator duly elected by the people in the province of Alberta, and he should be the one appointed to the Senate to fill that vacancy, and the sooner the better.
In Building Trust II, we suggest reforms to the way we consider regulations and there are suggestions how to improve the consideration of supply. We address the issue of smaller committees, which was also a recommendation of the McGrath committee that cannot be carried out in a five party House so we have a suggestion to remedy the problem of large, unruly committees. Scheduling conflicts between committees and the House is also in the document.
We will be proposing a petition reform idea that would empower citizens to bring issues for a decision to Parliament and not just use the process to be heard.
There are all kinds of goodies in Building Trust II and I will be submitting a copy of that to the modernization committee for its consideration.
I look forward to the weeks ahead where I know that the House leaders and other members of each of their parties will be sitting with you, Mr. Speaker, as the chairman of this modernization committee. I sincerely hope that when we have completed our task we will bring forward the recommendations that, not only my party but other parties have looked forward to, to modernize Parliament and make it a place where every member of Parliament has a voice, has a say.
The fact is that after the election of committee chairs was passed last week, the next day the government immediately agreed to all private members' business being votable. It was a major step forward in the House. It means that a member can come here, even an independent member who is not part of a caucus, and still get one piece of legislation on the agenda that will be votable and may be passed to bring good legislation to the country. I think that is an extremely good example of how things have to be improved. A member has to know that he or she is part of a system that helps make the laws in Canada and not one that is run out of the office on the third floor, the PMO.
I look forward to the modernization meetings over the next few weeks but I look forward even more to a report that will make serious changes to Parliament so that all members of Parliament can be involved in the day to day activities and the changing of laws for the good of all Canadians.
Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois. The purpose of this debate is primarily to modernize the Standing Orders, which govern the proceedings and procedures of this House.
We Bloc Quebecois members had the opportunity to benefit, to a certain extent, from clear rules, which is not to say that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons should not be updated or modernized. However, I remember that, in 1993, a large number of sovereignists, 54 of them, were democratically elected by Quebeckers. These were the Bloc Quebecois members. At the time, given the number of seats that we won, we were the second largest party and thus became the official opposition.
I clearly remember the battles that took place in this House and in some committees because we, sovereignists, had been elected. Some members of this House whom I will not name because some of them are no longer here—and I am not making this up; those who are listening to us can look it up in the 1993 debates—said “It makes no sense that sovereignists would form the official opposition”. In other words, if there had not been these Standing Orders applied by the then Speaker of the House, Gilbert Parent, and if the government had listened to these people, it could have led to quite the little situation of anarchy.
So, the Standing Orders are, to a certain extent, the rules that protect democracy in this House.
As for us Bloc Quebecois members, there is no ambiguity as to why we are here. There is no ambiguity as to our sovereignist convictions. However, we said that as long as Quebec is not a sovereign nation, as long as Quebeckers continue to pay $32 billion in taxes to Ottawa every year, they have the right to elect people to represent them in this House.
The point I want to make is that, as is the case in any evolving and ever-changing society, our Standing Orders--the democratic rules by which we are governed--need to be updated. Therefore, we agree with the government that we need to hold a debate on modernizing our procedures.
Of course, there will not be enough 20-minute allotments to fully develop this theme. But I understand that we will have another opportunity to do so. From what the government House leader said earlier, the House leaders committee will hold meetings, probably chaired by you, Mr. Speaker, to draft proposed changes to our current Standing Orders.
For the purpose of this debate, let me go over some of the changes that we feel need to be made.
The first change is the following. We agree with the proposal made by my hon. colleague, the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast and House leader for the Canadian Alliance, to have a secret ballot to elect committee chairs and vice-chairs. Again, I want to congratulate the hon. member for being so persistent on this matter.
However, as the Prime Minister told us and as the government House leader reminded us earlier in his speech where he made some suggestions, we should seriously consider the opportunity to take this one step further to enhance our democratic process. Which is why the Bloc Quebecois is recommending that the chairs and vice-chairs be distributed half and half between the opposition and the government, half of them coming from the government party and the other half from the opposition.
I think this would ensure greater fairness and, again, greater democracy.
The government leader often refers to changes made in the United Kingdom or in Australia. He seems to like what is being done in these two countries. I will remind the government leader that committees chaired 50-50 by opposition members and government members exist not too far from here. This is how it has been working for decades at the National Assembly in Quebec, under successive Liberal, Union nationale and Parti Quebecois governments. If it works in Quebec, why would the federal government not agree to take democracy one step further by instituting 50-50 chairing of committees?
The second change is the following. We in the Bloc Quebecois are asking that any commitment made by Canada on the international scene be subject to a vote in the House.
I am convinced that this will not come as much of a surprise, because during question period and in debate, we have repeatedly asked that all issues such as the sending of troops abroad or international treaties be subject to a vote. If we agree that this parliamentary assembly, made up of 301 men and women democratically elected by their fellow citizens, represents the ultimate expression of democracy, why not ensure, before sending troops to Iraq or participating in peace missions around the world, that there is first a clear, open and transparent debate in this place? Why not have a debate before signing international treaties?
There is talk of signing a pan-American free trade agreement, creating the FTAA. We in the Bloc Quebecois have serious questions to ask the government concerning this future FTAA agreement. Why would the government not let the debate take place in this House to take advantage of the opposition's insight? I hope the government does not think it knows it all or has a monopoly on truth. I think that members from all parties can make constructive contributions. International treaties need therefore to also be ratified through a vote by this House.
There is another point I have often made. I am acting as deputy House leader. I am acting in this capacity temporarily, because my colleague, the member for Longueuil, gave birth last week. Incidentally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate her. Serving as House leader on Fridays during oral question period reminds me once again that we, as parliamentarians, must take a serious look at productivity on Fridays.
I often count the number of members present on both sides of the House on Fridays, and I dare say it is paltry. I do not mean to suggest that members who are not present are not working. I am sure that they are busy in their offices or in their ridings, but we must take a serious look at productivity on Fridays.
I can hear the government House leader saying, “yes, but from 10.00 a.m. to oral question period, we would lose one hour of debate. From noon to private members' business at 1.30 p.m., we would lose even more time for debate”.
If the government were serious, it would come up with a concrete proposal. We in the opposition—I do not wish to speak for the other opposition parties—could seriously consider prolonging the sitting hours. I recognize that the government may have a legislative agenda. However, I must say that it is a meagre one lately. However, a party in power—that is not in a leadership campaign, as is the case with the Liberal Party right now—usually has a fairly hefty legislative agenda.
I recognize that if we take time away for government orders on Fridays, this time, which cannot be compressed, must be added elsewhere. We could make it up during the remaining days of the week, even if it means starting a half hour or an hour earlier. Instead of starting at 10.00 a.m., we could start at 9.00 a.m. Instead of finishing at 6.30 p.m., we could finish at 7.00 p.m. to make up during the four remaining days for the time “lost” for debate on government orders .
On the other hand, I am not calling for there to be no Friday sittings. I am not asking for a day off. Anyway, it always makes me laugh to be asked by reporters when we are adjourning for the summer or for Christmas, “So, what are you going to do in your three months of holidays?” I have heard that twice since 1993. I invite the reporters to spend a weekend with me, when I have eight or ten social activities over the weekend. I invite them to come and bring their colleagues, to see whether we take seven straight weeks off over the holiday season. I issue an invitation to the representatives of the media.
The purpose would not be to have an extra day off. We could, however, do something productive with our Fridays. Here is what I propose on behalf of my party for Fridays.
I know that it is not done in the United Kingdom or Australia, much to the displeasure of the government leader. I suspect this sometimes bugs him.
In a parliament like the Quebec National Assembly, Fridays are the day for what is called “interpellation”. This means an inquiry on a given subject, of which the appropriate minister is forewarned. The minister has time to prepare and there is a period of questions and answers and exchanges of views on a given subject between the opposition critics and the minister.
For example, they could address the Coast Guard, immigration or official languages. The minister has to be there on Fridays, as do the members taking part in the inquiry process, of course. This could lead to something highly productive.
I would like to see serious thought given to this, and maybe an on-site visit. Perhaps the government leader would prefer Australia or the UK, but he could go to Quebec City. There are, by the way, some worthwhile things being done in the Quebec National Assembly.
If worthwhile things are being done in other legislatures, in the legislative assemblies of Manitoba or Alberta, they can go and see for themselves what is going on.
A fourth element is that we would like more flexible rules regarding petitions. We have had debates on this issue. The government House leader told us about new technologies. An increasing number of Canadians have access to the Internet. We need some clarification regarding the possibility of accepting petitions through the Internet. The signature does not appear on the Internet. Therefore, we would need an Internet signature. Something could be done to modernize the presentation of petitions.
Petitions are a valuable tool for citizens. On any given issue that affects them, people will contact their member of Parliament and tell him “Our group met and we think that the government should take a stand on this issue”.
I believe in the petition process. The government is even required to respond to petitions. This is another illustration of a country that has a democratic process. I will not elaborate further on this issue, but we could look at the presentation of petitions through the use of new technologies.
Fifth, I would like to say, on behalf of my party, that the rules governing parliamentary privilege should be tightened up. I am referring to Standing Order 33(1) on the need to respect the primacy of our institution, namely Parliament, and on the privilege of parliamentarians to be the first ones informed of ministerial decisions.
The list of examples is getting longer. There have even been a few instances where we surprised the leader of the government with the news that press conferences had been held in Victoria or Halifax, while we parliamentarians had not been informed.
I think that the Standing Orders could be tightened, so that ministers and parliamentary secretaries, if they are not ashamed of their decisions, of their announcements, are required to make them before all of us here, and not out of the spotlight in a Kiwanis club or in a chamber of commerce in Vancouver, before a partisan audience that applauds them and laps up every word.
We want ministers and parliamentary secretaries, if they are not afraid of their decisions, to announce them here in this House, where opposition members can question them.
My sixth point is the following: earlier, the government House leader mentioned that the voting process has improved following the most recent changes made to the Standing Orders. We no longer spend hours voting on commas and semicolons. I admit that there was room for improvement and, indeed, some improvement has been made.
I am asking the government House leader to go a little bit further in his thinking and to tell me what he thinks of the suggestion that I am going to make—and I see that other House leaders are listening carefully. I would like the committee of House leaders to look seriously at the possibility of having electronic voting. I know that my fellow parliamentarians are not unanimous on this.
When I was on parliamentary missions, for example with the Association des parlementaires de la Francophonie and as guest speaker in Sofia, Bulgaria, I had the opportunity to visit parliaments in fledgling democracies. After the Romanians and the Bulgarians got rid of the communist regime, they elected their first parliament in the early 1990s.
For example, electronic voting is used in Bulgaria, as well as in France, in Russia, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and in the United States. However, because some people are attached to British parliamentary tradition, we still go through the exercise of rising one after the other for hours. I would like the committee to consider electronic voting.
Earlier, the government House leader mentioned free votes. He seemed so proud when he said that there had been 110 free votes in the last few years. Those who are not familiar with procedure will think that this government is transparent and open because it allowed 110 free votes.
When a vote is on an item under private members' business, a bill introduced by a member who is not a minister, it is always a free vote on both sides of the House. So when the government House leader brags about those 110 free votes, all he did was follow the Standing Orders. Items under private members' business are always subject to a free vote.
In closing, the government House leader talks a lot about improvements that were made in the United Kingdom and in Australia. I would like to remind him also that, in Australia, senators are democratically elected by the people. If he is so fond of what they do in Australia, he should consider the possibility of having our senators democratically elected.
I will conclude by expressing the hope that there will be improvements in discipline and decorum in the House.
Even today, I had a group of 58 people from my riding who made comments to me, following oral question period, without blaming any particular party, about discipline in the House, which should be improved for the good of democratic expression.
Peter Goldring Edmonton Centre-East, AB
Mr. Speaker, could my colleague comment on an earlier comment by another one of my colleagues about the election of senators and the fact that recently in Alberta a senator was elected municipally, on the municipal ballot, with some 250,000 votes from the people of Alberta.
Would he not think that would be substantial enough to affect the Prime Minister's choice when he is looking to appoint a member from a province that substantially indicates by the populace its senatorial choice and should the Prime Minister in effect respect that in his appointment?
Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC
I would respond to my colleague from Edmonton Centre-East by saying that, as a first choice, Quebeckers would like the Senate to be abolished. We do not see the need, in the current system, for a second House, particularly when we know that the Senate costs taxpayers $54 million a year.
We, in the Bloc Quebecois, say that the only way to get rid of the Senate is for Quebec to achieve sovereignty, for then we will no longer have a Senate.
I would also tell him that, in the current system, it would be better, if the status quo is maintained, to have democratically elected senators, of course, until the Senate is abolished.
Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment and question for the member. It seems to me that we risk losing something if we go to electronic voting, and I know a lot of people approve of it for a lot of very understandable reasons. However I have found over the years that there are unintended consequences of various reforms.
I would just ask the hon. member to reflect on what happens prior to a vote. Prior to a vote is a time when all members are in the chamber waiting to vote. It is a time when backbenchers talk to cabinet ministers, cabinet ministers talk to other cabinet ministers and opposition talks to government. I have always found it a useful time for buttonholing cabinet ministers or other people to whom I otherwise do not have a chance to talk. This is one thing that has been on my mind when I think of electronic voting. I think of us all coming in here with a card, as individuals punching our card into the desk and leaving. It seems to me that collegial opportunity is something that would be missed.
I ask the member to reflect on what might be an unintended consequence of a voting procedure that would eliminate that kind of opportunity.
Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC
I recognize that the House leader of the NDP is a seasoned parliamentarian. He was first elected in 1979, I believe, and I have a great deal of respect for his experience. However, I would say to him that one does not preclude the other.
I have had the opportunity to express myself on this at the procedure and House affairs committee. First, the voting station could be located somewhere here in the House. I do not agree with the idea of voting from our offices, or while we are at it, from our riding offices.
I think that we should maintain a 15 minute or half hour bell to ensure that members have the time to get here, and to provide time for the informal conversations that take place between colleagues on both sides of the House. When the bells stop ringing, we should have some five or ten minutes, the time needed, to enter our electronic card into the voting station. The end of the bells would mark the time to vote, and the results would be known almost immediately. As such, we would still keep the opportunity to meet with our colleagues from the other parties.
Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK
Mr. Speaker, the member's response toward the senate is something that I would like to follow up on. Assuming that we are not going to have a sovereignty issue in the province of Quebec and that we are one country, I think the member would agree with me that one of the problems we have in this country is that too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few, in the Prime Minister's Office.
The Australians, the Americans and the Germans have a federal system of government. I think that the regions in those countries feel that they are better represented. They feel that way because they have a senate that has real power at the centre and can represent their interests effectively and act as a check and a balance on the concentration of power in the prime minister's office.
Would my learned colleague see the merit, if the country is to stay intact, in having an elected senate that can fairly represent all the regions, including his region, at the centre and take some of the power away from the Prime Minister's Office?
Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC
Mr. Speaker, what did not help with the fact that people have lost faith in the institution, is when they saw the absences of Senator Thompson who, I believe, set foot in the Senate 21 times over a 14-year period.
This does nothing to help the credibility of the institution. We must look at how political appointments are made. The people who want to keep a second House say, “It guarantees regional representation”. However, I believe that regional representation—given the number of seats in the House, we would have to look into this if it is not fair—is already guaranteed enough, to a certain extent.
However, I do agree with the member when it comes to the process for appointments. We have seen the latest appointments made by the Prime Minister. He appointed a very popular artist in Quebec, Jean Lapointe, to the Senate, even though he continues to tour throughout Quebec and give performances.
I trained as a lawyer and I no longer have time to devote to any cases. I no longer have any time for practicing law, because my job as an MP has become a full time job, seven days a week. How could the likes of Jean Lapointe, who has been appointed to the Senate, or Jean-Louis Roux, whom the Prime Minister appointed to the Senate, continue to perform? Is being a senator a full time job? That is something that has to be asked.
We who are members of Parliament on either side of this House do not have time to continue our second careers in parallel. Ours is a full time job, a seven day a week job.
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Mr. Speaker, I wanted to pick up on the electronic voting proposal. I have voted against the government about six times in my nine years here. Always it took courage to rise in my place and be seen to be voting against my colleagues. On one occasion I was the only one who stood.
It serves two purposes to stand and be counted. One is to make sure that members do not squander party solidarity by too easily being able to vote without being seen by constituents and without being seen by one's colleagues. Alternatively, one of the reasons to stand up and be counted is to send a message to the government that members are not happy with the legislation before them.
I would suggest to my colleague opposite that if we have electronic voting, these two great instruments of standing up and being counted and sending messages to the government and to Canadians at large on how we stand on legislation is an important privilege of being a member of Parliament that should not be lost.
Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC
Mr. Speaker, in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I have already had the opportunity of answering that question. I will repeat what I have already said.
Instead of standing up one after the other, which takes an average of 15 to 18 minutes, we could have an electronic system with one, two, three or four stations in order to get it all over with in four or five minutes. For the public aspect of our expression, we would vote using an electronic card with an access number. It would be possible to see whether we had voted for or against a given item. Perhaps the following day, as is the case at the present time in Hansard , or the House of Commons Debates , to use the correct title, it could be seen who had voted in favour and who against.
I have objections to the performance of popping up one after the other like performing dogs or trained seals. It is counter-productive. I realize that this could be indicated in Hansard the following day. People would see who voted with the government and who against it.
Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, first, I want to say that I agree with the Bloc member. As in several other legislative assemblies, there is a lot to learn from Quebec's National Assembly on parliamentary reform.
I am always pleased to talk about parliamentary reform. It has been a preoccupation of mine. In 2003 it will be 20 years ago that I was appointed to the special committee that was struck at a time of crisis in the life of Parliament.
You perhaps will recall, Mr. Speaker, the bell-ringing crisis, when the bells rang for 16 days in this place and the whole place ground to a halt. As a result of that, a special committee of the House was struck, under the chairmanship of former Liberal whip Tom Lefebvre. The work that committee did in 1983-84 actually became the basis for a much more prominently known report called the McGrath report, but really the first report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, sometimes known as the McGrath report, in effect was what the conclusions were that had been reached by the Lefebvre committee in a previous Parliament. I sat on both those committees.
I want to begin by saying that at the end of the day procedurally we can lead many horses to water, but we cannot necessarily make them drink, because ultimately parliamentary reform is a cultural matter. Parliamentary reform is something that happens in the individual and collective heads and minds of members of Parliament and their respective political parties. No amount of tinkering with the rules or with how committee chairmen are elected or whatever other things we might do, while all of these are appropriate and all help to create a context in which that cultural change might be encouraged, will do it. Ultimately what needs to happen is that people need to change their way of relating to Parliament and to each other.
It seems to me that we have an opportunity after the vote today to see whether or not there has been a change in the attitude of the House and in the attitude of the government toward the House.
The House just passed, unanimously, an NDP motion calling for the withdrawal of proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act having to do with people with disabilities. The government yesterday was asking us to weaken our motion so that it might be able to feel freer to vote for it. In the end, we refused to weaken our motion. Because our motion was so correct, I think, because it called for something so obviously right, in the end the government voted for the NDP motion.
So that motion is there now. Tomorrow I want to see an announcement by the government that those proposals have been withdrawn, that the wishes of the House have in fact been respected, because too often I have seen motions passed unanimously in the House and then nothing has happened.
I remember a motion from February 9, 1999, when the House unanimously passed a motion calling for a national ban on the bulk export of water. Do we have a national ban on the bulk export of water? No, we do not, yet the House unanimously called for such a ban.
So one of the things we need to have around here is a little more respect for the decisions taken either by the House or by committees. When there is a unanimous recommendation by a committee that something happen, it should happen. We should not have to bring the matter before the House and have the House express itself as it did today.
However, now we have the committee and the House. The next stage is for the government to show respect for the House and the committee and make that happen. I think that when this kind of thing starts to happen, then we will know that we have made real progress at the cultural level with respect to parliamentary reform.
I listened to the member from the Bloc. He talked about the need for chairmen of committees to be chosen from different parties. I recall that this was one of the things that we did achieve for a short time. Probably not too many members of Parliament know this, but following the initial implementation of the McGrath committee, the House adopted two different kinds of standing committees, standing committees that would do investigative work and study of different issues while legislation would go to special legislative committees. Those special legislative committees were actually chosen from a panel of chairmen made up of people from all parties.
We had a very good experience with that. We abandoned that system for a bunch of other reasons, but one of the good things about that system was that members of opposition parties, all opposition parties, got to exercise the role of chairman and we actually developed a number of people who become known for their expertise at chairing committees. I just wanted to put that on the record.
There are a number of things I would like to talk about, things that we have suggested and that still have not been achieved. I would like to put them on the record.
We wanted, and we still do want, the Standing Orders to be amended to give the Speaker authority to determine whether there has been reasonable opportunity for debate before a motion of time allocation or closure is heard. We still think that the Speaker should have the authority to protect Parliament and a minority point of view in Parliament from being abused in a time-allocated way by the majority. It is not unusual for speakers in other parliaments to have this kind of power and I think our Speaker should have it too. That is certainly something that the NDP will continue to work for.
We also wanted the minister responsible for the legislation that was having time allocation moved on it to have to come to the House and answer questions for 60 minutes. We got 30 out of the modernization committee. Not bad. I think it is a good start and a good procedure to have that requirement put upon a government that wants to move time allocation with respect to any particular legislation.
We would like the House to be taken more seriously. I think that the Bloc member made this point. Over and over again I have had occasion to rise in the House and complain that major policy announcements were being made outside the House. Here we are in a week when we have just come back and it appears that the government does not have much on its agenda, but one of the things it could have on its agenda is having ministers making policy announcements in the House and taking the House seriously. Then the opposition could respond and Canadians would come to see the House of Commons as the place where major policy announcements are made. That might be an improvement in terms of how Canadians see the House of Commons.
When Canadians see major policy announcements being made elsewhere and they see, in some cases, arguably meaningless debate, because we are having more and more take note debates and we are not really debating motions that will be voted on and have some effect, arguably this is not something that enhances the reputation of the House of Commons. If we had more policy announcements being made here, as they should be, by ministers, it would be one way of enhancing the role of the chamber. This is something that I have argued for before and that I intend to keep arguing for.
With respect to standing committees of the House, we are not going to get real independence on committees until we implement the recommendations of the McGrath committee. It recommended that membership on committees be independent of whips for a certain period of time. Then, once people get appointed to a committee, they can replace themselves if they are going to be absent but they alone choose their replacement, so that members on committees cannot be disciplined, at least for a period of time, either for a session or an entire Parliament or whatever we determine. They cannot be disciplined by their whips and they cannot be removed by their whips if they begin to have independent thoughts.
Because we know all too often what has happened around here. Members, particularly government members, get on a committee, they study the legislation, they find out that it is maybe not as good as they were told it was, they begin to demonstrate critical faculties or independent thoughts, and the next thing we know they are not on the committee and what we often refer to as parliamentary goon squads show up to vote one way or another. They do not even know what they are voting on. This has to stop. One of the ways to do that is to appoint people to committees for the duration of a Parliament or a session and enable them and only them to name their replacements in circumstances when they cannot be there.
With regard to treaties, this is a funny kind of thing. We have asked for treaties to be considered by the House of Commons for a long time. I was surprised and pleased when the Prime Minister said that he would bring the Kyoto accord before Parliament to have it debated and ratified. I hope this is the beginning of a new attitude on the part of the government and subsequent governments toward Parliament when it comes to the ratification of treaties.
If I am not mistaken, the Prime Minister is on his way to Prague at the moment to participate in a NATO meeting which is considering the expansion of NATO. Canada is the only country in NATO whose Parliament never debated the expansion of NATO, which is an alteration of a treaty. All the other countries in NATO, when the original expansion took place, debated the expansion of NATO, even the Westminster parliament. It was not required to do so, but nevertheless the government of Tony Blair provided the opportunity for that debate in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. It is only in Canada that these issues are not regularly debated and are not required to be debated.
We will see how it is done. I do not want to approve of a procedure I have not seen yet, but the idea of debating and ratifying the Kyoto accord in Parliament seems to me to be progress. I hope from here on in we might see Parliament involved in a way that just does not suit the political agenda of the Prime Minister but happens as a result of a growing sense that Parliament is the place where treaties ought to be debated and ratified.
We would like to see some of the Standing Orders amended to reflect the fact that there are five parties of the House. We just went through a procedure. In this case it was the government and the official opposition that were treated differently than the other parties, and perhaps that should stand. However we have other Standing Orders where things are allocated in threes. It says that the first three parties shall have so many minutes in terms of speeches. These Standing Orders were designed when we had a three party House, nearly 10 years ago.
It is not too much to ask after nine years that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons catch up with the reality that we now have a five party House, or are we waiting until we go back to three parties so we do not have to change the Standing Orders. It is kind of ridiculous. All we are asking is a reality that was once recognized, that all the parties be treated the same, be reinstituted through changing the numbers in the Standing Orders, yet that has not happened.
These are some of the things that I wanted to mention. The House leader of the official opposition talked about parliamentary review of appointments. The McGrath committee recommended that certain appointments be reviewed by House of Commons committees, although I do not think we went as far as to recommend that ambassadorial appointments be reviewed. I am not sure I agree that would be progress to have them reviewed by a parliamentary committee, but there is room for an expanded role of parliamentary committees in considering certain kinds of appointments. That recommendation goes back 20 years and we need to look at that.
I wish this was called the reform debate and not the modernization debate. I want to say that in closing. I think I said it at the beginning of my remarks the last time we set up a modernization committee. It is as if the government does not want to admit that it is reforming the House of Commons or does not want to be answerable to a spirit of reform but wants what happens to only be seen in the context of this modernizing paradigm of seeking efficiencies or whatever. We should not be apologetic about wanting to reform the House of Commons. People want the House of Commons reformed. They also want their electoral system reformed.
We will not be addressing voter apathy and voter cynicism about politics until there is parliamentary reform, which is just so much inside baseball to a lot of Canadians. Nevertheless they are concerned about the inordinate amount of power that the Prime Minister has, et cetera. They want to see a package. They want to see parliamentary reform and see electoral reform. Many people are arguing for a system of proportional representation. Some people want the Senate abolished or replaced with an elected Senate or something done to ensure that the regions are more properly represented at the centre here.
We need reform when it comes to campaign finances and the financing of political parties. I think the government is finally moving very slowly in that direction. We will see what it comes up with and what is finally produced.
In terms of democracy, ultimately we need to look at the trade agreements differently. I know not everybody in the House will agree with me but the fact of the matter is that we can have an absolutely perfect democracy in Parliament. We can have a perfect electoral system and all that. However, if in the end we have nothing left to decide because it is all decided at some trade tribunal somewhere, either at the WTO or the NAFTA, behind closed doors, non-transparently and decided only on the basis of what constitutes a barrier to commerce and not whether it is in the public interest, then we do not have much of a democracy. It seems to me that, at least from an NDP point of view, a debate about democracy in this country has to extend to debating the extent to which the trade agreements, global and regional, are restricting the power of duly democratically elected people to act in the public interest.