House of Commons Hansard #154 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cultural.

Topics

Points of Order

11 a.m.

Kings—Hants
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, this morning I rise on a point of order to clarify remarks that I made on November 4 in the House. I have sent the following letter to the member for Calgary Southwest and I would like to read that letter today for members:

I am writing to you in connection with three statements made in a published press release on Friday, November 4, 2005.

The three statements, which I now understand to be untrue, are:

(1) “The NCC...has been charged six times under the Canada Elections Act of various malfeasances relating to third party advertising--many of these under [the Leader of the Opposition's] watch”;

(2) [The Leader of the Opposition's] “past is littered with examples of questionable if not illegal behaviour.”; and

(3) [The Leader of the Opposition] “was in contravention of the Lobbyist Registration Act.”

I make the following statements as a correction and by way of apology.

Yours very truly....

I am pleased to table a copy of this letter.

Points of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is the hon. member for Edmonton--Sherwood Park rising on the same point of order?

Points of Order

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I really must question this. The member has taken up time in private members' business, which I assume will be added to the time for it, and he seems to indicate very loosely that he may possibly be apologizing for the fact that he issued statements which were not accurate. I want to know whether he is ready to make a statement in the House that totally rescinds the bad and untrue things that he said.

Points of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I do not think the hon. member has a point of order. The member stood up and made some kind of retraction. I did not follow all the words, but he has tabled a letter and I urge the hon. member for Edmonton--Sherwood Park to have a look at the letter to see what it says. I do not believe the minister read the entire letter, but I do not know. I could not tell.

In any event, I am sure the hon. member can examine it. I think this is the first complaint we have heard about it, and if there is a further complaint, then of course the hon. member can get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed from October 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (members who cross the floor), be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

You've got to read the bill. That's what it says.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

I know that is exactly what it says. That may be okay. I could support that in principle but I think even then there might be times that the constituents would object to that and should, by way of referendum in the constituency, be able to trigger a byelection or at least a petition with sufficient names on it.

In conclusion I would simply like to say that it will be an interesting vote when the bill comes to a vote because I think a number of people will be on either side of it. My present inclination is that it will be about 60:40. Right now I am inclined to support it because it goes in the right direction. I believe the element of saying to the people that this person was elected under this banner and if he or she changes the banner then the constituents have the final say on it. Because I support that aspect of it I will probably vote for it, although I will still be doing a little thinking. I am sure the bill will be subject to intense lobbying from the hon. member to garner my support.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise and speak in defence of Bill C-251. It is a bill designed to strengthen the rights of the citizens of Canada, the men and women who vote in all our various constituencies. The bill is not designed to strengthen the political authority of political parties as the parliamentary secretary said.

In fact, I was quite amused to hear the parliamentary secretary propose certain reform measures that would strengthen the role of MPs in committees. He said that the government had already done great things in this regard.

I can say to the hon. member that it is really bizarre to hear a member of the Liberal government talk about democratic reform. First of all, the reforms the member is talking about I first heard when I was here in 1968. Thirty-seven years ago the Liberals were talking about doing this, and the government is still talking about doing it.

As I recall, It is the same Liberal Party that when a candidate of Chinese Canadian background in Vancouver was all set to become a candidate through a democratic process in the recent election, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Martin, named the president of the Liberal Party in British Columbia over--

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order. May I remind the hon. member to use their titles to refer to members in the House.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent Ottawa Centre, ON

That may be another reform we will come to one day, Mr. Speaker.

I expect the Prime Minister chose his candidate over the local democratically elected candidate.

I was glad to hear that my Conservative friend, the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, is likely to vote for the bill. I am encouraged by that.

He made a references to unions somehow financing the NDP and that this is somehow a pernicious activity. I make the point that financing to the NDP was always done by democratic vote by the unions. Any member could have his or her funds democratically withdrawn from the supported party if he or she wanted to, and unlike the corporate donations to the Conservative Party or Liberal Party in the past, the union members had a say in it. Corporations decide unilaterally, whether or not the shareholders agree.

As for my friend from the Bloc, I listened with care and he said that the Bloc Québécois could not have come into being the way it did if the process my colleague is advocating had been in place. I say that is right, and so be it. It is democratic. Back in the 1990s the appropriate thing to have done, in my view, if those members were elected from other parties, was to do what my colleague has said; they should have resigned from the party they were in, in good conscience, sat as independents and then went back to the electorate that had voted for them as Conservatives before and had byelections.

That is what the bill is all about. It is bringing democracy as it affects MPs' behaviour in the House of Commons into the 21st century. We are proposing a change. There have been New Democrats who have crossed the floor, Liberals who have crossed the floor, Conservatives who have crossed the floor. Indeed, the Bloc came into formation because of it.

We are saying that the people of Canada in every constituency do not vote for the man or woman as an individual. I know we are all overcome by high levels of modesty as MPs. Every political scientist who has studied the situation knows that citizens vote 80% to 90% for the party. They believe in the party's program on the one hand or they disbelieve in another party's program and they want to vote against it. The key point in my colleague's bill is that these democratic wishes should be respected.

I refer to the case of the member for Newmarket—Aurora who was elected as a Conservative and ought to have remained a Conservative. If she wanted to leave in good faith, there was an option other than crossing the floor and becoming a cabinet minister, which breeds cynicism among the electorate. She should have resigned her party membership, if she felt that way, sat as an independent and then she could have voted with integrity, if she had wanted to, for the budget. She could have voted as an independent. It should not be the right of an MP to cross the floor, unless he or she is prepared to resign the seat, go to the electorate and let the constituents once again decide.

By the way, this is not abstract talk. I repeat, members of other parties, including ours in the past, have crossed the floor. We want to change that. Roy Romanow, the former premier of Saskatchewan, did what ought to have been done. There was a Liberal member in the Saskatchewan legislature who wanted to cross the floor and join his government. He politely, I am sure, but clearly denied that opportunity. He said to the member that if he resigned his seat, he should get a nomination as a New Democrat, be elected as a New Democrat and then they would talk about joining that party in the provincial legislature. That subsequently was done. That man acted with integrity. He resigned his seat as an MLA for the Liberal Party. He got the nomination as a New Democrat, was elected as a New Democrat by the voters in Saskatchewan, and then and only then was he entitled to be a member of cabinet.

I stress that the bill is designed to combat cynicism. The most pernicious form of cynicism in political life as citizens see it is that from time to time those of us who are elected to office act not in the public good, but in our own good. We act not in the public interest, but in self-interest. That is what we want to minimize, and get rid of whenever we can, in our democratic institutions.

Now that we can all vote as individuals on private member's bills, I urge my friends in all parties to give serious thought to this private member's bill and to vote favourably on this bill that will respect a member's integrity.

If a member has problems with his or her party, the member can leave that party and sit as an independent in good conscience. If the member wishes to go to another party, he or she ought to respect the democratic wishes of the citizens, resign his or her seat and ask the constituents to elect the individual under his or her new party. If that person is elected, he or she could then act as a member of the new party. If it means going into cabinet, so be it, but one would hope that would not be the motivation. If the member was elected simply to further the aims, goals and philosophies of that party, that is good.

That is the kind of system we need in Canada and it is long overdue.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened carefully to this debate, which is an important debate from the standpoint of democratic reform, something the House should always look at.

The last speaker referred to respecting the wishes of the constituents. Today people often look at the plurality of individual members of Parliament. It is interesting to note that less than 25% of the members elected to this place actually receive more than 50% of the vote. That brings into question whether a member who is elected and receives less than 50% of the vote actually reflects the will of his or her constituents, in that simply because of the numbers in the election the member did not have a plurality.

The other thing I noticed in the debate was that there seemed to be a total discounting of the value of a member of Parliament. About two-thirds of my work has to do with the constituency and helping the people in my riding with their needs as they relate to areas of responsibility of the Government of Canada. Under this bill, if a member sat as an independent for 30 days and then a byelection was called, technically, a riding would have no active representation for a fairly long time. I am not sure whether or not the constituents of a riding association should be asked to be without that active representation which is so important.

In Alberta elections were held to nominate senators, which cost a couple of million dollars. Last May, in the case involving a person in the Conservative Party who crossed the floor to the Liberals, under this bill there would not have been any change in the vote.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

What does it cost to buy people to get them to cross the floor?