House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was infrastructure.

Topics

The House resumed from November 1 consideration of the motion.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 253 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:04 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of that, it states:

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London talk about an idea that in my view has very little root in the tradition of British parliamentary democracy.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that from time to time in the life of a Parliament new political parties may be formed and groups may choose to sit in different caucuses for different reasons at a different time. From my perspective, to impose such a draconian and rather unparliamentary measure would be something that has no precedent in our parliamentary system.

My question is more around the potential cost of what the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London is advocating. For example, the road from the Reform Party to the Conservative Party has been a long and difficult one for many members. By my count, there are 21 members of the current Conservative Party who may have started out as Reformers and some of them may have changed parties a number of times, sometimes three or four times.

At roughly $200,000 per byelection, by any account, the different changes of some 74 members during that period from Reform to the Conservative Party might have cost $14 million. I am interested to hear the member explain how he views the cost that taxpayers would have to bear from these convulsions that sometimes certain political parties go through on the road to their current status.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it somewhat amazing that the member talks to us about waste. I believe he used the term “draconian measures”, and “convulsions” was in there too.

He has said that going back to the people to ask them if that is what they want, or taking it back to the voters of his own riding to ask them if that is what they would like him to do, is somehow a draconian measure. I can see how that party will be judged in the next election if that is the typical response we might we get; that asking the voters what they would like to see in their riding is a draconian measure.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's premise was that people elect members on the basis of leader and party. I would reject the premise personally because I know many members in this place have earned a great deal of respect within their ridings and in fact probably have received the number of votes necessary to give them the majority need.

The other reality is that less than one-quarter of members receive more than 50% of the votes. It would seem that this kind of change would shift away from the premise that the member made in the first place, that it was based on party and leader and away from a quality member of Parliament.

Would the member comment on that?

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is fair for the member for Mississauga South has asked me to comment on it. He is right. A fair number of members of the House come here with less than 50% of the vote. We sit with a three or four party system. However, I sit near some colleagues who achieve better than 50% of the vote on a regular basis, the seconder of my bill being one of them.

I do not think that makes it wrong. It makes it more important to have this type of legislation. When we come here with margins that may not be a full majority, then the people who came out to vote for a member would want to know that the person was representing them.

The member spoke also about how leader and party may not make the difference in an election. I recognize it is not the overall difference. I recognize there is a mix, that party affiliation and the leader of that party is part of what gets us sent here, part of what makes people vote for us in our ridings. However, the good work members do once they get here certainly helps them. The reputation they had before then also is a part of it.

It is such a large part that we cannot ignore it. We cannot ignore the people who may have voted for us because of the party. We will need to have the voters tell us whether we can stay or not.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to further debate this particular issue that the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London has brought forward today. I congratulate him for the initiative, although he knows, and I have spoken to him privately, there is one serious flaw in his initiative and I will debate that as we go on.

I have had a bill very similar to this, in some ways maybe a little better but we will discuss that as well, since 1998 in the House of Commons. I have had two elections and at three different times I entered the bill in order to get it debated in the House of Commons. Two weeks ago we had the first hour of debate on it and when we come back on November 17, we will have the second hour of debate, barring any unforeseen elections, of course. Then on the November 22 or 23, the House will actually get a chance to stand up and vote for democracy.

My hon. colleague and one of the most senior statesmen of the House of Commons, our colleague from Ottawa Centre, has given all of us an opportunity to change the morality and the ethics of this place with his code of ethics, which has seven points. Number one in his code of ethics is “Thou shall not cross the floor”.

If the hon. member from Edmonton, who represented Oshawa for many years, one of the most respected politicians and human beings in this country, honestly believes with all his political experience that the time for crossing the floor has to stop, I think it is time that we, not only as members of Parliament, but as Canadians, stand up and take notice.

I simply cannot comprehend for a second how somebody can go to the electorate in a general election under a political banner, get elected under that banner, come to the House of Commons and, for a variety of reasons, decide to walk across this very expensive broadloom, which costs a lot to clean, by the way, to move over to the other side to join another political party in the middle of their term, saying “I can no longer justify being with this political party under which I was elected. I now have to join another one”.

We do not own these seats. They do not belong to us. In my case, this little square that I have and this really uncomfortable chair belongs to the 90,000 people I represent in Sackville—Eastern Shore in Nova Scotia. They are the ones who determine what I should or should not do.

If I were to decide to cross the floor and become a member of another political party because I had a falling out with my own party, that would be fine, but I should do the honourable thing and quit. Once we quit, we can do whatever we want. However the premise would be that we would seek the mandate of the new political party, go back to our constituents in a byelection or a general election and tell them our reasons for flying under another political banner. We should allow our constituents the final determination of what we do and whether they want to be represented by another party. That is called democracy.

I noticed in the first hour of debate on my bill, unfortunately, that the Liberals, a Conservative representative and the Bloc all said no, which is not too hard to understand because when it comes to democracy, sometimes those parties need to be, for lack of a better term, knocked on the head a bit to figure it out.

It is quite simple. I encourage every member of Parliament to go back to their riding and ask their constituents whether they should have the final say on whether he or she should cross the floor? I guarantee that the results would be almost unanimous throughout the entire country. In most cases, if not in every case, the majority of people in our ridings would say yes.

I do want to tell the member that I support the premise of the bill going to a committee, but that is it. In committee I will rip it apart and we will fix it for him. The New Democrats are good at doing that. We take very flawed legislation and fix it.

If the New Democrats had introduced it in the first place, which we did in this case, there would not be a problem. However that is okay. He is a new member of Parliament and we will help him get along.

In the meantime, I agree with the premise of the bill and hopefully it will go to a committee where we can debate and discuss it. We can get people from across the country, a lot of constituents to debate it, which is democracy, and let the people of Canada have the final say on this. We should not be deciding this on our own.

However, the flaw in the member's bill, as my hon. colleague from the Bloc said, is that it gives too much power to the leader of a political party. If, for example, the hon. member who brought forward the bill were to have a major fallout with the leader of his party over a particular issue, the leader could tell him that by the next day he would be sitting as an independent and in 30 days there would be an election.

There is also a thing called the employment or job aspect of it. Why would we give the leader of any political party that much power? It is a huge mistake. I know he is listening to me and writing this all down and understanding that he should be corrected on this one. I know the hon. member well enough to know that he will do that.

The reality is that we should never give the leader of any political party that much clout. Members should be able to sit here and make decisions based on their constituency. However I do believe that there comes a time in our political life when we can no longer sit with our party and we may choose to sit as an independent. I believe members should have the right to do that or, if one is being a real rabble-rouser within one's party and is not a team or caucus player, then the leader should exercise the right to make the member sit as an independent, but we should not go to an election immediately because of that.

Our hon. colleague from Churchill, Manitoba, a wonderful woman who I really miss not being in our caucus, but we have a democratic process, we had a nomination and, unfortunately, she was defeated, so she decided to sit as an independent. Should she go into an election right away? No. She has the right to sit as an independent.

Another member from the Liberal caucus was being a bit of, I guess, a hard-nose within her caucus and the Prime Minister said that she could no longer sit as a Liberal. Should she lose her job because of it? No. She can sit as an independent until the next election.

The member from Juan de Fuca, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, did it right. When he left the Conservative Party after it became the Conservative Party, he said that he could no longer sit with the Conservatives and decided to sit as an independent. He said that in the next election he would make his intentions known to run as a Liberal. That is the way it should be done.

Sitting as an independent in this House is not the easiest thing to do. Independent members have no committee work, have very little say with regard to what happens and are isolated with very little press coverage in that regard unless we are in a minority situation. I know some people do not like going to committee so maybe that would be a good thing but the reality is that they are isolated, on their own and no longer part of a team. I think it is important to be part of a team when we are here, regardless of our party affiliation.

Our bill will come up on November 17 for its second hour of debate. We would hope to continue on with this debate and we would hope that other members of Parliament will understand that crossing the floor is no longer acceptable.

I can give the classic example of how bad this is. There was a member of the Alliance Party who ran in Richmond, British Columbia in the 2000 election, Joe Peschisolido. He sought the nomination of the Alliance Party and won it. He ran against a cabinet minister at that time and beat him fair and square. The hon. member at that time accepted his defeat because he knew that was how things went.

Within six months, that Alliance member got an epiphany and decided he could no longer be an Alliance member and became a Liberal. What about the member he defeated? The Liberal Association of Richmond wanted nothing to do with Joe Peschisolido but the prime minister told the association that it did not have a choice. What kind of democracy is that? That is unbelievable.

The one thing I will give Preston Manning a lot of credit for is that he believed the constituency aspects were the way we dictated our lives, which is the way it should be. We represent the people of our riding. We also represent a political theme or ideology and that is why we are here. The reality is that we should go back to our constituency if we decide to cross the floor and run under another political banner.

The hon. member's bill is severely flawed. I would like to see it get to a committee so, as we said before, we can fix it for him. We could make his life a lot easier by getting his party to vote for our bill and Bob's your uncle after that.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bill Casey North Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, a minute ago I wanted to rise on a point of order because I was really concerned about the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore advertising his own bill. I did not know if that was a point of order or not, so I did not rise, but he did get a good plug in for his bill and we certainly will be watching for it very carefully.

In the member's discussion he kind of painted the NDP as the epitome of democracy. At the same time he mentioned the hon. member for Churchill who, I agree, is a wonderful member of Parliament. She is very effective, always does her homework and is very knowledgeable. However that epitome of democracy would not allow her to vote the way she wanted to on a recent bill. I am not exactly sure what happened but eventually she ended up being an independent member of Parliament rather than being a member of the NDP.

If the NDP had allowed a free vote on that issue, I think she would still be a member of the NDP. Therefore I do not think the member can stand and say that the NDP is perfect.

I have been here since 1988 and I have seen Progressive Conservative members go across the floor to the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives go to the Bloc. I have seen Liberals go to the Bloc, Bloc members go to the Liberals, Alliance members go to the Liberals and Liberals go to the Conservatives so I can understand why the member is so frustrated and why he felt the need to bring forth this bill.

Every time there is a change like this it means people back home are wondering what happened to the person they elected. Let us take the example of my first election. The whole election was based on free trade. The Progressive Conservative Party was in favour of free trade and the Liberals of course were against it and they were going to tear it up. Theoretically, if someone changed parties, the people who voted for free trade might find their member now voting against free trade. Therefore it is really a legitimate complaint that the very distinguished member for Elgin—Middlesex—London raises with this bill and the motive is correct.

However I agree with some of the other points that have been made. I even agree with the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore when he raises the issue. I do think there is a flaw in the wording of the bill and it should be fixed.

The bill simply says “if a member of the House leaves the political party to which the member belonged”, but it does not say why. If just says, “under his choice”, but it does give tremendous power to leaders.

I have had eight leaders and every one of us from time to time disagree with our leader but if we happen to run into a particularly nasty leader who might be particularly vindictive that leader could evict us from the party and we could be out on the street. As has been raised by other members, that is one little flaw that should be addressed.

The member mentioned that the member for Mississauga—Erindale was evicted from the Liberal Party but she still sits in the House and represents the people she was elected to represent. However if the leader of the Liberal Party were a particularly vindictive and nasty person, which I am not saying he is, he could evict a lot of members under the bill and they would be sent home. Even though thousands of people had elected the member to come here, one person could send that member home.

The bill raises a lot of issues. Who do we represent? Every time a bill comes to the House we have to decide how to vote. We have to weigh what our constituents want, what we feel in our heart and what the party wants. It is not a simple decision. People often try to make it simple but it is not simple. Some of these are very deep moral issues that we must decide on. Some have no affect on us sometimes but some have a big impact and we have to weigh every aspect when we vote because we represent the people who elect us.

As I have said, I have had eight leaders. I have had four prime ministers. Many times I have seen members of Parliament off side or off message with their leader, including perhaps the member for Churchill. We need the ability to be off message with our party, otherwise there would be no freedom for an exchange of ideas. Nor would we be able to bring forth the concerns and beliefs of our constituents. It is important we have that right without the threat of being evicted and then losing our seats. Otherwise it really is not a democracy.

I support the motive of the bill. I admire the member who brought the bill forward. However, one line I home in on does not say the member of the House of Commons would leave the political party. If there were a description, it would be better. Perhaps if it does go to committee, that could be corrected. Otherwise it would give total power to the leaders. I would not want to be under that because from time to time I am off message.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's bill attempts to address a matter of some frustration for constituents when their member decides to leave a particular caucus and cross the floor. However, the bill fails to hit the nail on the head. I understand its purpose and many of us here have some sympathy for the purpose. The fact is in the House none of us has a party membership, per se. We have caucuses.

We have talked about members who have left the party caucus, but it does not mean they have ceased to be a member of the party. Members who have left their caucus to sit as independents may well retain their party membership. In addition, I sit with the Liberal caucus, but I may have let my membership in the Liberal Party expire, although I have not. Does that mean under the terms of the bill that I have ceased to be a party member? I do not know. This is a curious thing.

I also want to point out that clause 2 of the bill deals with the concept of a member leaving a political party, which is problematic as I have just pointed out. We never know when the party membership does or does not exist around here because we do not publicly record it. In clause 3 of the bill, the criterion is not the leaving of the political party. It is the decision by the member to leave the political party. How does one know when there is a decision to leave? How does one know when one has really ceased to be a member of the party because the parties do not register anything here?

There also is the concept of caucus expulsion, which is not addressed in the bill. The caucus decides to remove a member from caucus. That is against the will of the member often but it happens. That member could still remain a member of the particular party. He or she simply ceases to sit with the caucus. How is that covered here? It is not clear. As I said, the member could stay as a member of the party and sit as an independent.

At the end of all of this, constituents have the ability to make judgment on what the member has done in the following election. Granted the electoral term is a maximum of five years, usually an average of four. In a minority government scenario it could be a lot less. In this Parliament we could end up with a two year term. In previous Parliaments they have run three and a half to four and a half years. However, the electors always have the ability to make the judgment.

I am not sure I agree with members who say what we do around here is not democratic. Everything we do here is democratic. Canada is a democracy. I sometimes get uncomfortable when members say, “If you do not do this my way, you are not being democratic”. We are democratic. We can change the rules from time to time.

Using the perspective of the member's bill, it may be that some of us will get our head around this. It may be that there will be a mechanism available to deal with the issue of members crossing the floor. That is slightly disconnected from the issue of whether a person is a party member. Crossing the floor, leaving the caucus, sitting as an independent, joining another caucus are all concepts that will have to find their way into legislation.

Also, there may be some constitutional underpinnings for members of Parliament and for constituents that may have to be addressed as well.

The privileges of Parliament are constitutional. It may be, and I am leaving this as a thought, that simple passage of a statute that undermined the constitutional privileges of a member of this place or the constitutional rights of electors to place a member here in a federal election maybe should not be undermined by a statute that simply says when a member ceases to be a member of a party or changes caucuses. I am just throwing that out there, that a simple statutory amendment might not have the ability to rearrange certain basic fundamental constitutional concepts, which we rely on here all the time and which are often not recognized, but underpin our Canadian democracy.

I leave those thoughts on the record. I congratulate the member for making a really good faith attempt to address a matter which I think concerns a lot of Canadians, when members cross the floor.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.