House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

National Flag of Canada
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-288.

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

Vote #108

National Flag of Canada
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

National Flag of Canada
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 6:19 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 2, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, whenever the issue of parliamentary reform comes up for debate, it is always nice to be able to express what I think are important issues. I hope people will be somewhat generous in terms of relevancy. We are in an interesting time in that we have seen a lot of things happen with respect to parliamentary reform. I want to focus on two aspects.

One is the need for reform in terms of the number of members of Parliament. We had a good discussion about that just before winding down the fall sitting. It is something I would not mind reviewing. Members will recall that the government decided to increase the size of the House of Commons. It was interesting to hear the different opinions from the three political parties on that issue. We have always maintained that given today's reality and priorities this was not necessary. Without any hesitation whatsoever I would suggest that the vast majority of Canadians do not support the need for parliamentary reform in the sense of increasing the size of the House of Commons.

When we talk about parliamentary reform, we should be talking about how best to meet the needs of our constituents. There are different ways in which the government could have addressed the issue. We were disappointed that the government decided that the short answer to this issue was to increase the size.

We could just as easily have seen an increase in the resources available to individual MPs as opposed to increasing the overall number of MPs. With additional resources members of Parliament would be able to better serve their constituents.

There is always a great deal of discussion in terms of first past the post, plurality of votes, multi-member ridings, and so forth. I have always found these debates to be of great interest. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a small task force on parliamentary reform. There is a great deal of interest from the public to participate.

In my discussions I found that people appreciate one member, one ward. People appreciate that we operate with a first past the post system, even though there is a great deal of interest in individuals acquiring more than 35% or 38% of the vote in order to ultimately win. There could be a runoff ballot. I have heard many discussions in regard to that. There is a great deal of merit in that.

This is not the first time I have seen the issue that is before us. The first time I saw this specific issue was in the Manitoba legislature. The New Democratic Party introduced it. When it got to the committee stage, it was interesting to see the number of presenters who came forward. A former New Democrat, Sid Green, talked about how government cannot take away the right of a member of Parliament or an MLA to do what the member thinks is the right thing to do in terms of crossing the floor. Winston Churchill crossed the floor on several occasions, I am told. I do not think we would find very many Canadians who would suggest that Winston Churchill was a poor politician or not a wise politician. Winston Churchill is probably one of the most recognized parliamentarians worldwide because of some of the things he did during World War II.

There were cases presented in the committee that challenged whether or not the law being proposed by the NDP was constitutional. I would have had a very difficult time if my political party was trying to force me into a position which was completely at odds with my constituents.

In the past we have seen individuals make good decisions in terms of serving their constituents. Crossing the floor would be a very difficult decision to make, but I find it rather odd that a party that wants to come across as being a grassroots party would suggest that this would be an illegal activity.

There are other ways to do it. I made reference to the task force in Manitoba in which I participated. Another way would be recall. Public support could be gained for other ways.

At the end of the day, when we talk about members of Parliament and their ability to act on what is important, it is important that they have the opportunity to leave a political entity if they think that political entity is not meeting the needs of their constituents first and foremost.

The most significant reference I could make is that of Winston Churchill. If we looked at the British Commonwealth as a whole, we would find many cases where it has been justified and individuals have been re-elected after crossing the floor.

I have had exchanges with individuals here in Ottawa as well as in Manitoba. I have received responses that have been fairly positive toward this. All political parties have benefited by it. In Manitoba, I believe there was a Liberal MLA who went over to the New Democratic Party. I do not think there were any New Democrats who complained about it at the time. In fact, I believe they felt the individual had a right to do so.

Ultimately, we have to take into consideration that there is a Constitution. I believe individuals have a right to do what they believe is in the best interests of their constituents. If that means participating in another caucus, they should be allowed to do so.

However, when we talk about electoral reform, there are other priorities that are more important than this issue. I would like to extend to members the challenge of how to get more people to participate in elections. I would welcome a lot more discussion on that.

I have made the suggestion to put the choice of “none of the above” on the ballot. I have also suggested, and Manitoba has adopted, allowing more people to vote in places such as malls where people convene.

I am more interested in trying to engage people in participating in the electoral process and opening up nominations than what this bill is attempting to do. It is trying to dishonour or discredit the political process that has worked exceptionally well. The system that we have has worked exceptionally well. By discrediting it, we are ultimately discrediting the democratic process. I would suggest--

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with a touch of humility that I rise here today in support of Bill C-306, introduced by my hon. colleague from Pontiac. I mentioned humility because Bill C-306 led me to reflect on my role as a member of Parliament, and more importantly, on the principles that motivated me to run in the last two elections. It has always been clear to me, but to sum it up in a speech and then articulate it here in the House requires some reflection.

According to this bill, if a member decides to change parties, this decision would automatically lead to a byelection in the riding of the floor crosser. Or else the floor crosser would have to sit as an independent until the end of that Parliament. The spirit of this bill, of course, is meant to protect the democratic choices of Canadians. In light of what has already been said about this bill on both sides of the House, it seems to me that there are two conflicting opinions regarding the role of an MP. Once again here today, these conflicting views will emerge, but no one dares to spell out what they are. I would like to identify these two categories from the outset. If the adjectives I use rub people the wrong way, I apologize. However, someone must have the courage to say them.

There is humble conception of the role of MPs and there is an elitist conception. Those two notions are at odds when it comes to this bill. Bill C-306 is the humble vision. The government's reaction, and that of the third party, is the elitist vision. There is a very clear line and, from what I have read, it is completely unyielding. Let us not forget that sitting in a seat here in this House and representing a constituency comes with tremendous privileges. These social privileges automatically place all federal members in the now-famous 1%. While the west is going through a period of economic difficulties and uncertainties, we, as democratically elected members of Parliament, are sheltered from that wave.

I think that is the very definition of the word “privilege”. This privilege is the result of our democratic responsibilities. We work hard in return; we represent the people of a constituency and we do our best to defend their interests. Careful, I detected some rude remarks in my colleagues' comments. We do not represent the people who voted for us; we represent everyone in our riding, regardless of what party they voted for or whether they voted at all.

Those who place this democratic trust in us deserve a minimum of recognition. The seat I am sitting on is not my seat; it belongs to the people of L'Ancienne-Lorette, Loretteville and Wendake. Louis-Saint-Laurent is not my riding, it is the riding that I represent. A majority of people in the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent voted for me to occupy this seat on their behalf. That is my job. Their commitment to me is instrumental.

A member is first and foremost responsible to the people. I am not invincible and I remain humble before the task entrusted to me by the voters of Louis-Saint-Laurent. I admit that some very talented people elected to the House can be elected merely on the basis of their reputation. That is the ultimate accomplishment of a career in democracy. These talented people can be found in all the parties represented in the House. We all admire a number of our colleagues—often without consideration of their political persuasion.

This is not the case for everyone. Many are elected because they represent a party. That is the political party system and, although this system does have some flaws, we accepted a long time ago that it has more pluses than minuses when it comes to the democratic process. And for good reason. Some members who were recently elected because they were members of a certain party will soon prove to be incredibly talented and may perhaps be re-elected later just on their reputation.

And since I am talking about humility and great merit, I would like to point out the excellent work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who introduced this bill about 15 years ago. Fifteen years, what does that represent? It represents 15 years of inaction on something that is so simple. We in the NDP have not changed our position. We fight for the principles we believe in. Respect is the guiding principle that directs our work. We are not here for the privileges; we are here because someone must shape and build our country. This bill reiterates that power belongs to the citizens of Canada and that this power is exercised during elections in order to send representatives to Ottawa. It reiterates that the power in our system comes from the bottom and not the top. The member does not choose; citizens choose through the elected member.

This bill, which would limit the ability of elected individuals to put their own interests ahead of the voters' democratic choice, reflects the NDP's view that our democracy can be improved. How does the fact that other Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, do not have such laws justify abandoning this idea? Can Canada not innovate in politics? Voters find this lack of flexibility discouraging. Everyone knows that. Everyone claims to be aware of and concerned about the crisis of legitimacy we are facing.

Fewer and fewer Canadians bother to vote. Voters feel alienated from government. Yet nobody is doing anything. The system does not change. What is the current situation? Anemic voter turnout and pervasive cynicism. Do we have to wait until voter turnout in general elections drops below 50%, which is what happened during the last provincial election in Ontario?

The system is fundamentally exclusive. Neither the government nor the third party are truly concerned about voter turnout. That is the only explanation. This way, they win. The situation does not bother them because they have a basically elitist view of an MP's role.

I have tried to make sense of their arguments, but I can see only one troubling conclusion: voters are not relevant to the debates. The people are secondary. The member of Parliament is the only one who really matters. As I understand it, elitism is the best word to describe what is going on here. These people think that members of Parliament are an end unto themselves. An election victory is proof of intellectual greatness, confirmation of brilliance, an A+ awarded by the nation. These MPs turn up in Ottawa like little monarchs because, clearly, the people in their ridings could see that they deserved a place in the 1%. I apologize if I have offended anyone, but not talking about this would be much worse.

At first reading of this bill, some members of the House very seriously stated the following by way of criticism:

In effect, the bill would require members who fundamentally disagree with their caucus or with the leader of their party to resign their seat or to sit as independents.... Such restrictions would strengthen the control of political parties over individual members by bolstering a party's threat of expulsion in order to maintain party discipline and limit the representative role of members.

I do not want to make a value judgment, but this was said by an elected member of a resolutely strict, closed and exclusive government whose thoughts are systematically expressed as a single voice as a result of blatant internal terror. I will refrain from commenting on its legitimacy.

A floor crosser often acts to save his own skin. The wind blows in a certain direction, the person loses the favour he once had and panic pushes him a little bit left or right, depending on the case.

At first reading of Bill C-306, many members searched the long list of former floor crossers in Canadian history to find exceptional cases that would justify the act. When they failed to find any truly glorious and memorable examples, they quickly turned to world history. Perhaps because Carthaginian leader Hannibal was too obscure, they decided to mention Sir Winston Churchill, who changed political parties several times. Any reference to Sir Winston Churchill in this context is extreme. The man made a direct contribution to the survival of western civilization through the force of his character, and he received a Nobel Prize in Literature. His case is in a class of its own. Let us not compare apples and oranges.

Some members are trying to confuse voters. They want to lead voters to believe that they are acting in the interest of voters when, clearly, they are acting in their own interest. Members get used to their privileges. They start to feel invincible and they will do anything they can to stay here. After all, they got an A+, did they not?

I am confused when some hon. members refute the intention of this bill by saying that it is ineffective, since it is really the court of public opinion that judges members of Parliament. Essentially, they are saying that the system regulates itself. Is neo-liberalism being applied to the political party system?

If we follow the hon. member's reasoning to the letter, a member of Parliament is completely disconnected from his or her electors and has to defend his or her record just once every four years. It is clear what the Conservatives' priorities are. This also suggests that the message sent during the previous election is quite meaningless for the Conservatives and the Liberals. The mandate that is given to a member of Parliament under a specific banner ideally should last until the next general election. We know that circumstances change. We know that people change their minds. However, we are not talking about whether we want rice or potatoes with our steak. We are talking about affiliation to a political party and the convictions of the voters who made their choice.

The New Democratic Party, as I was saying earlier, has strong principles. An MP is not a demigod whose opinion is worth more than that of the people who sent him or her to Ottawa. We are not talking about a mandate from heaven. Just because an MP believes that the ideology he or she once defended is no longer suitable does not mean that walking away is morally acceptable.

The MP is in Ottawa precisely because the people want him or her to be here. Leaving it up to the voters to decide in the next general election does not make crossing the floor morally acceptable. That is why we strongly believe that a member who crosses the floor, as honourable as it is, has to answer to the voters if he or she decides to change parties.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I take great pride in rising to speak in favour of Bill C-306, introduced by my colleague from Pontiac.

In the last parliament, I had the privilege of introducing a similar bill due in part to the experience that I had in my own riding, Vancouver Kingsway, which I will speak about in just a few moments.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who has been a champion of this kind of legislation for many years in the House.

Fundamentally, the bill is about democracy. Fundamentally, the bill is about respect for voters. Fundamentally, this bill is about elections and the way Canadians choose their representatives in their parliaments and legislatures in this country. Bill C-306 proposes that byelections be called when an elected member of any political party in this House decides on their own to change to another political party than the one chosen by the voters in that member's riding during his or her term of office.

The bill proposes that byelections also be called when an independent member decides to join a political party during his or her term in office if he or she were elected as an independent. However, byelections are not called, according to this legislation, when an elected member of a political party decides to become an independent during his or her term in office. This exception is important because it allows a member of Parliament to make a principled stand against his or her party if they deem it appropriate, but removes the incentive to do so for personal gain or in violation of the clear expression of the voters of the riding.

What is floor crossing? It is essentially a betrayal of the trust that electors put in us when they send us to Ottawa. When candidates run under the banner of a party, they are saying that they agree broadly with the principles and leadership of that party. To expand on that, the reality of elections in Canada is this.

We have 100,000 to 150,000 voters in many of our ridings. We do not get to meet all of those voters. It is impossible for voters to come to independently interview each candidate running for office. Therefore, our country and modern democracies around the world have developed a party structure, allowing people to gather together and ascribe to broad and general concepts, philosophies and principles and to present that grouping of policies and principles to the public. Why is that important? It is important because that is how voters express their democratic will. They do not have to independently interview each candidate. They know that when someone is running as a Conservative, a Liberal or a New Democrat, they can trust that those candidates broadly represent a set of principles, policies and philosophies reflecting that voter's intention.

I have heard some highfalutin stuff in the House from the third party in particular that I think is utter nonsense.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

That's what we think of what you're saying.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

It suggests that people do not vote for the parties in this country—

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

People vote for people too, you know.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, can I have some quiet, please, from the hon. member behind me? I listened carefully when he was talking. The member should respect democracy. I have the floor.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. Indeed, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway will continue.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is hard to concentrate when I have a yapper two desks behind me who wanted everyone to be silent in this House.