Last in Parliament April 1997, as Reform MP for Kindersley—Lloydminster (Saskatchewan)
Lost his last election, in 1997, with 32.57% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Canada Labour Code March 11th, 1997
Madam Speaker, I rise to add my voice to those who are speaking on Bill C-66.
I want to begin my comments by relating to the House the importance of this issue, in particular as it affects prairie grain producers who are often the victims of labour disruptions in the grain transportation system.
It is easy to become removed from the realities of how this actually affects people. We as members of Parliament have to be careful that we do not lose contact with the realities and the hardships that are imposed on innocent people when something totally beyond their control happens that affects their livelihood.
If it is something like a flood, such as we have seen on our television screens from time to time, the last one being in the United States, where somebody's home is washed away or their property is destroyed, we feel for them. We think that they did not deserve this. This should not have happened to them. They had no control over the weather. Oftentimes there is charity shown to these people and that is the way it should be. We acknowledge those who help others in times of need.
When it is something like a labour disruption which affects the livelihood of others in just as real a way as a flood that sweeps through someone's property and washes away their life's belong-
ings, we do not always have that same emotion. We do not recognize the seriousness of the situation.
There are thousands of farm families across the prairies whose livelihood is dependent on moving their grains to port for export. That is what pays the bills. That is what puts food on the table for many of my constituents in Kindersley-Lloydminster. That is what pays for the little things like buying that new dishwasher, or paying for music lessons, or perhaps buying that new piece of equipment that the farmer has been waiting so long for, for the money to actually make that purchase.
These are real decisions that real people have to make. It is very disheartening when one is trying to pay the bills and trying to get ahead, in particular if commodity prices are on the rebound as they were two or three years ago, and then one sees a labour disruption wipe out any potential for recouping losses of the past. It is pretty hard for a member of Parliament to go home and talk to people and say the House did not really care about the plight of these people. It was more interested in other issues like distinct society for Quebec or in their own MPs' pensions and so on and it was not particularly concerned that these strikes and lockouts keep reoccurring and very little over the past 30 or 40 years has been done to remedy the situation.
People who live in the agricultural community are used to taking risks. They understand that they are in a risky business. Their success is determined by the weather, by international markets. They recognize that they do not have total control over their future. But the problem of unsure markets because of transportation problems and disruptions in our transportation system is one added risk that is not required. That, added to the other risks which are unavoidable, is certainly a real problem.
To outline how serious the situation is, it was highlighted just a few weeks ago when we saw over 40 ships anchored in English Bay in Vancouver costing prairie farmers about $10,000 a day every day that they sat there waiting to take on their cargo of grain.
This problem in the grain handling system was not the result of a labour disruption but more often than not when these things do happen it is because of a labour disruption somewhere in the grain transportation system.
Whether it is a labour disruption, an equipment problem or a weather problem, of course the person who pays for the problem is the producer. In every instance the producer has had absolutely no control over the situation that has been thrust on them.
I want to recall a situation when I was first elected in 1993. It was actually in early 1994 when there was a labour disruption on the west coast. We brought the problem to the attention of the House. The minister at the time, currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: "I think we can get this problem resolved". The minister of labour at the time said: "We think this is not going to be a serious problem. This lockout will pass. We trust that the two parties will come together and resolve their differences".
I do not know why the minister thought that. History tells us that is not the way these labour disruptions, these work stoppages are resolved. In fact, since 1972 six labour disputes related to the west coast ports were settled by federal back to work legislation. Two other labour disputes were settled by federal back to work legislation in 1988 and 1991. That is a total of eight disputes in less than 20 years, each one costing millions of dollars to producers.
We had two bills that we brought to this House, one in 1994 and one in 1995 that legislated workers back to work. I would contest that it is not the primary responsibility of this House to be bringing and introducing into this House back to work legislation on a regular basis.
Certainly we have the power to do that as legislators and we have done that. Members would think when we keep returning to this process time and time again that somebody somewhere would wake up and recognize that we are not solving the problem, that it seems to be getting worse.
It is a bit like raising children. If they do not deal with the difficult situation they are facing it is apt to repeat itself. People need to find some solutions if they are having problems, whether they be problems with a child's attitude or problems with a child's health.
If a problem does not go away, if it keeps repeating, they will go to a doctor or to someone who will offer some advice about how to correct the situation.
Here we have these recurring labour problems on the west coast. It is not necessarily the problem of labour all the time or management all the time. They probably both share equal responsibility for the problem.
Nevertheless, we keep blindly introducing back to work legislation, clean up the little mess and meanwhile there are millions of dollars lost to prairie producers. Then we go on our merry way, hoping that it does not reoccur.
Of course a few months later or the next year the situation does reoccur and we go back to the same debate. They will solve the problem. Government drags its feet. Finally the situation becomes intolerable and the government grudgingly brings in back to work legislation, has another debate, passes the bill and forces the workers or management to restart operations while the problem is resolved.
What happens in this case is that the two parties that disagree have no incentive to resolve their problems. They recognize that Parliament will do it for them. Therefore they are intransigent in
their positions. They fail to maximize the potential of the collective bargaining process.
If we were just talking about a trucking company, if we were just talking about a department store or if we were just talking about some other entity where there is a lot of competition, it would not matter so much if the two disputing parties could not resolve their problem and management locked out the workers or if the workers went on strike. That is fine because if we are talking about a trucking company there are 1,000 other trucking companies we could use. If we are talking about buying an automobile, if it is a major automobile manufacturer which has a work stoppage, there are other companies that we can buy our automobiles from.
The interesting thing on the prairies when there is a labour disruption on the west coast or through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence seaway system is that it stops the flow of the lifeblood income for a major industry in Canada. That is why this situation is so serious. That is why it needs to be addressed with constructive and progressive legislation.
I am speaking about grain today because as the agriculture critic for the Reform Party it is my responsibility to represent the industry and the people who earn their livelihood from it. However, it would be the same for potash or coal. The large mining and forestry industries are affected in the same way. They also have a strong case to make in calling for adequate and uninterrupted service in getting their products to market.
If we take all the sectors together, millions of jobs and livelihoods are dependent on the efficient movement of product for export. Canada, after all, is an exporting country and when we do not export efficiently we suffer immensely on the domestic scene.
I talked about all the labour disruptions and that emergency legislation was brought into the House. Finally, the minister of labour at the time recognized that it was important to end this labour disruption and something had to be done. At that time I was House leader for the Reform Party. We got together and we agreed to speedily pass legislation through the House. The second time we introduced legislation when another labour problem reared its ugly head, there was not as much co-operation in the House. I believe the House had to sit over a weekend, including Sunday, to pass the legislation because not all parties in the House co-operated.
Emergency legislation is required when the government has waited too long to introduce legislation. There are the technicalities of trying to get the legislation through the House quickly, before further damage is done. That does not always happen. Sometimes some parties, the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, do not co-operate. It could even be the Liberals. When in opposition they flip-flop on these types of issues. Nevertheless, the legislation is not guaranteed an easy ride through the House of Commons.
The disputing parties have no incentive to reach an agreement because they know that if they do not reach an agreement the House of Commons will legislate them back to work, at extra cost to taxpayers. Oftentimes the cost to the parties involved is less through back to work legislation than if they resolve their differences in a more constructive way.
Finally we did pass emergency legislation at a cost to the taxpayers. The taxpayers are the innocent third parties. The prairie economy lost millions of dollars. Basically nothing was resolved because the same situation could occur within months. It certainly will occur within a year or two.
What are we going to do about this? I have identified the problem. I believe my colleagues in the House would agree that it is a recurring problem. However, to identify a problem is not enough.
The government launched an inquiry. It is pretty good at holding inquiries. This inquiry was called the industrial inquiry on west coast ports. That inquiry was given a mandate and it held hearings, primarily in western Canada because its focus was on the west coast ports. The problem is not solely in the west coast port region. There are labour disputes right across the country which affect the movement of our products for export. However, the primary focus was on the west coast ports when the inquiry was commissioned by the new Minister of Labour, who retains that portfolio today.
Hearings were held and Reform was privileged to present a brief to the inquiry. In that brief we identified the costs of the 1994 west coast port labour dispute directly was over $125 million. The indirect costs which included lost future contracts was over $250 million. A figure given by the former minister of labour, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggested that threatened grain sales was around $500 million. These were the potential costs of the 1994 west coast ports labour dispute.
The commission heard briefs from various parties, including Reform. Reform's position on the movement of grain since we first addressed the issue even before the 1993 election was that initially we had suggested that the movement of grain should be declared an essential service. We recognized the importance of the industry, the importance of moving the grain in a timely and efficient manner. As we spoke more with people across western Canada and across the entire nation, as we talked to the players in the industry and reviewed the situation, it became apparent there might even be a
better solution to the problem, the implementation of final offer arbitration.
Our member from Lethbridge introduced a private member's bill. It was debated in the House. It called for that resolution mechanism to be put in place to resolve labour management disputes that affect the movement of grain to port position. Unfortunately members opposite did not support that piece of legislation. I want to speak in defence of that concept with regard to Bill C-66 which unfortunately does not support the concept of final arbitration.
Reform believes in the collective bargaining process. It is a process whereby management and labour come together and try to resolve their differences and to agree on a new contract sitting down at the bargaining table. We respect and support the right of management and labour to follow that process.
Anything we have suggested in the way of final offer arbitration would not stifle or hinder the collective bargaining process from doing its thing, from undergoing its usual process. What would happen at the end of collective bargaining if it failed, and sometimes collective bargaining does fail, rather than seeing a lockout or a walkout, the two parties would get together and commit to a final offer arbitration process. Our legislation calls for the two parties to sit down and try to agree on an arbitrator and present that arbitrator as the person who would mediate their dispute. If they could not agree on someone then the powers in the legislation would be given to government to find a neutral arbitrator who would select the person who would be responsible to oversee the process.
Then the two parties would come before the arbitrator and would explain where they had reached an agreement or where they had failed to reach an agreement. In the areas where they had failed to reach an agreement each party would be invited to bring forward their best offer. Both parties, not having seen the other party's best offer, would then wait for a ruling by the arbitrator. The arbitrator would look at the two offers and see which one was the most reasonable based on the positions they both held, where they were able to agree and where they were not in agreement. It would therefore select all of one offer or all of the other.
It does not take a rocket scientist to recognize that this makes unreasonable negotiators become reasonable very quickly. If one side in the dispute were to put forward a very unreasonable position they would be at great risk because the other side may put forward a more reasonable position and they would therefore win the final offer selection arbitration process. They would come out on top in the process.
Instead of being unreasonable the two parties will attempt to be as reasonable as possible and have a slightly better offer than the offer proposed by the other side. That is quite a change in the dispute settlement mechanism. It is a very constructive change, I might add.
I know my time has almost expired. This is not some untested resolution mechanism. It has been used many times. In the government back to work legislation passed in 1994 the legislation implemented the process of final offer selection arbitration. That mechanism was legislated to solve the dispute.
If that is what the government imposed on the two parties, why not put it in Bill C-66 and nip the problem in the bud so that we do not have to keep on reviewing the issue, bringing in emergency legislation and perhaps even implementing final offer selection arbitration anyway?
It makes sense but unfortunately the Liberal government does not seem to be very interested in making sense. It seems to want to complicate everything as much as it can.
I remind the government that while the grain companies, the railroads, the shipping companies and the customers will continue and probably survive for quite some time, it is the farm families and the millions of people who make their livelihood from Canadian exports who will not be able to live up to the standard they should be able to live up to in Canada. Simply because the labour dispute settlement mechanism is antiquated they will not be able to provide their kids with some of the basic pleasures and privileges of life most Canadians enjoy.
I bring the matter to the attention of the House. I ask the government to hear what we are saying and to fix the problem rather than to continue in this makeshift, Mickey Mouse, haywire manner that has been followed for the past number of years.
Supply March 10th, 1997
Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Mississauga South certainly made some comments. He thought it was very inappropriate for Reformers to bring this issue for debate in the House of Commons today, the day before Clifford Olson had his day in court.
We could always check Hansard to find out what the hon. member said. He thought it was opportunistic. I cannot remember exactly what he said as there have been so many members who have spoken along the same line. However that was the gist of what he said. I may not be quoting him word for word but that was the gist of the message that he was trying to get across.
The member for Burlington spoke in the same vein. She criticized Reformers. She did not think this was an issue that was important to Canadians. She obviously has not been listening to her constituents.
Then, my dear friend, the member for Vancouver Quadra, got into the act. Why he would do that I do not know. Perhaps he has been a constitutional expert for too long and is out of touch with how Canadians feel and what is in their hearts. They still believe in decency. They still believe in justice. They still believe that when somebody ruthlessly takes another human being's life there should be severe consequences that will last for more than just a few years.
I have taken almost all the time available to me in questions and comments. In closing, I wish Liberal members would set aside their partisanship and come to their senses. I wish they would start to listen to Canadians.
I cannot believe that the member for Prince Albert-Churchill River and the member for Saskatoon-Dundurn would show such insensitivity to the concerns of Canadians who see people brutally murdered. Then the justice system protects, cares and pampers the murderers while the victims continue to suffer. It is wrong and I bring that to the attention of the House.
Supply March 10th, 1997
Madam Speaker, I have listened to members on the other side defend the process. They have defended section 745 of the Criminal Code even though many of them voted for rescinding that section when their former colleague put forward a private member's bill to do so. Now they have flip flopped and are defending section 745 of the Criminal Code.
One of those members is the member for Oshawa. Can we imagine what his constituents would think if they heard him in the House? I hope some of them did, although most of his comments were heckling rather than intelligent ones.
The member for Rosedale was also doing the same thing. He was supporting section 745 of the Criminal Code. I wonder what those constituents think of their member.
Right beside the member for Rosedale was the member for Sarnia-Lambton. He rose to make a speech. All he did was rail against Reform because Reformers are concerned about victims.
The hon. member for Saskatoon-Dundurn had the gall to say that family members of the murder victims are not victims. I could not believe that he would be so insensitive and non-compassionate to suggest that family members of murder victims were not victims. I could not believe he would make such an atrocious statement in the House.
The member for Scarborough Centre yelled insults at Reformers and he was defending section 745 of the Criminal Code. I believe I even heard a way off in the corner the member for Victoria-Haliburton defend this awful section of the Criminal Code which Canadians from one end of the country to the other want to see rescinded.
The hon. member for Halton-Peel serves with me on the agriculture committee. I thought he would be concerned about Canadians and their concerns over section 745 of the Criminal Code, but no way. He was heckling as well.
In front of him was the hon. member for Prince Albert-Churchill River, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. He has been involved with the issue. He heckled Reform because we brought the issue before the House. He belittled the importance of repealing or rescinding section 745. He said that it could not be done retroactively. However they could retroactively do away with the Pearson airport deal. We know what a Reform government could do in a retroactive way.
They will push the most regressive legislation through the House. They will use closure. They will use time allocation. However when it came to a bill to deal with section 745 of the Criminal Code they could not do it because the Bloc did not like it.
Can we imagine those poor, helpless, majority government Liberals not being able to make changes to our legal system because the Bloc did not want them to do it? They had to bow to the separatists. They could not do the right thing. The member for Prince Albert-Churchill River justified that action. I find it incomprehensible.
The member for Dauphin-Swan River heckled Reformers. She said it was just awful that we were bringing the issue before Canadians. The member for Winnipeg St. James was his usual self. He is always yelling at us in the House. He is very unkind and very undiplomatic. He was doing his usual routine. The member for Halifax was babbling about Reformers and calling us names. I am sure you could not hear her, Madam Speaker, but that is the usual spiel we get from that member as well.
The member for Mississauga South also said some very unkind things about Reformers. He said we had no right to bring the issue to the floor of the House. Can we imagine that? We are the people's elected representatives in the Parliament of Canada. On a serious issue like section 745 of the Criminal Code he thinks it is wrong for us to bring it before the House of Commons. He would rather have it debated in the papers. He would rather have it debated on talk shows across Canada-
Supply March 10th, 1997
They are heckling and jeering after their member talked about name calling. To hear all the names they have been calling us all day puts him in a very tenuous position, to say the least.
The member for Saskatoon-Dundurn talked about crime rates going down. Actually, if we look at the long term trend over the last 20 years, crime rates in Canada have been on a steady increase. Like all charts they bump up and down but overall they are on an increase.
I was talking to some social workers in the member's riding, people the work at the Friendship Inn. He knows very well where it is. They are the experts in this field. It is one of the most difficult areas in the province of Saskatchewan. It happens to be Premier Romanow's riding as a matter of fact and the hon. member for Saskatoon-Dundurn is the Liberal representative for that riding.
I asked them about the crime situation there. I asked if it was as bad as a lot of people thought and if it was getting better or worse. I am sure they were honest. They work there every day. They care for
these people. They are concerned about their well-being. They said that without a doubt things were getting worse in Saskatoon.
Crime is increasing. There is solvent and substance abuse, break and enter, robbery and prostitution. Young offenders are a big problem in that part of the city in Saskatoon.
The hon. member does not even know there is a crime problem in his own riding. Yet he stands and has the nerve to say it is no big deal that Reformers are concerned about section 745 of the Criminal Code. All the members over here have been making apologies all day for Clifford Olson and hundreds of murderers like him who will get their day in court, who will be able to stand and plead for mercy after the despicable things they have done.
I have been in the House most of the day listening to the Liberals. A number of them over there have defended Clifford Robert Olson and section 745 of the Criminal Code. They are glad he will have his day tomorrow. They are trying to point the finger at us and say that we are in the wrong because we brought it to the attention of the House. All of Canada knows what is going on. All of Canada is upset. Yet these Liberals in their little cocoon are complaining because the Reform raised the issue for debate in the House.
Supply March 10th, 1997
Madam Speaker, I just heard a disappointing speech from the member for Saskatoon-Dundurn. He epitomizes-and he was very pitiful in doing it-everything we find wrong with the justice system.
Supply March 10th, 1997
Madam Speaker, I would like a clarification from the Chair. Previously, Speakers have indicated how much time the questioner has to make his questions or comments and has indicated that the time must be shared evenly between the person who has questions or comments and the person who has made the speech so that they have equal time to answer the question. That did not occur in the case of my colleague from Comox-Alberni. I would like to understand why the rules were not followed in this instance.
Prime Minister March 10th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister came to Saskatchewan last week on a pre-election campaign tour. Talk about a public relations nightmare. That is what happens when you send your chief spin doctor to Miami.
He had hoped to talk about jobs during a photo op. Unfortunately the stats for February came out the very same day. Unemployment is stuck at 9.7 per cent. The story was "depression level of unemployment continues for yet another month".
Then he told farmers he could not or would not do anything about the grain transportation disaster on the prairies. It was so arrogant, reminiscent of Pierre Trudeau when he gave farmers the finger and told them to sell their own wheat.
Shunning protesters who challenged him on broken promises, he then finished off the day telling school kids it was okay to gamble so long as they did not overdo it.
A goodbye and thank you to the Prime Minister for campaigning in my province. Come back soon and help us elect more Reformers in Saskatchewan.
Parliament Of Canada Act February 21st, 1997
moved that Bill C-250, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Canada Elections Act (confidence votes), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure and privilege to lead off the debate on my private member's Bill C-250 which would fix the election date for federal elections in Canada.
Once again, Canadians are left wondering about the timing of the next election. After the three year anniversary of a government has passed the speculation begins in earnest about when the Prime Minister will call the next election.
Canada is one of the few democracies that still leaves it up to the government of the day to decide when to call an election. We feel that this represents a type of conflict of interest. In other words, the Prime Minister will time the election to whenever best suits his own political interests. Also, incumbency already has its own built-in advantages and that is well known.
Why should the timing of the election also be left to the government? We would not let the government arbitrarily set the conditions of an election such as where the electoral boundaries would be. Fixed elections dates would lessen the government's advantage and create a more accountable, representative and fair system.
Therefore I have proposed a bill that would cause federal elections to be held on a fixed date every four years unless the government was defeated by a vote of non-confidence. More specifically, if passed, the bill would cause a general election to be called on the third Monday in October every four years and would ensure that byelections occur promptly when vacancies occur between general elections.
Our Constitution does not contain many provisions regarding elections in Canada. Most election rules are by convention or by
federal statute. However, the charter provides that the House of Commons cannot continue longer than five years, except in time of war, invasion or insurrection, unless it has the support of at least two thirds of the members of the House of Commons.
The Constitution Act of 1867 also states that the House of Commons cannot continue longer than five years. Section 5 of the charter also states that there is to be a sitting of the House of Commons at least once every 12 months. These are some of the rules and parameters under which the House of Commons is required to operate.
As a result of these provisions there could be in some circumstances a Parliament that last for longer than five years, perhaps even closer to six years, although this has never happened and would really be stretching the limits of the Constitution a great deal.
In his book Election Law in Canada, ex Tory MP Patrick Boyer writes: "It is theoretically possible for an election to be delayed approximately nine months after the end of a five year term".
Although the Constitution sets out the maximum time limits for a Parliament there is no minimum time limit. That is a greater part of the problem we face in the country with the uncertainty of when elections will be held.
Federal elections in Canada can be called any time up to the end of that five year limit by the governor general on the advice of the Prime Minister or they can be called if Parliament is dissolved because the government lost a vote of confidence in the House.
Therefore a general election can be held at virtually any time during the government's mandate. This has led to problems of elections being held too frequently or not frequently enough. For majority governments it means they can hold out for as long as five years and for minority governments it means that another election can be called after just a few months in office.
A minority government or even one with a slim majority can implement one popular decision or even make a promise and then hold an election to try to gain a larger number of seats in the House. This would be done at great cost and expense to the country.
The lack of fixed election days has led to abuses and irregularities. For instance, many of the Liberal members here will remember the last two years of the Tory government. The Tories held on to power as long as they thought they dared. They had been re-elected in November 1988 but rather than calling the election in the fall of 1992, when I believe Canadians were ready for a federal election, they held on for almost a full year and went to the people in October 1993.
The Tory government of Grant Devine in Saskatchewan did the same thing, stretched out a mandate to the full five years, obviously realizing that it would not be re-elected by the people of Saskatchewan. Both the Mulroney and Devine Tories held on to power despite being hopelessly unpopular and even involved an alleged unsavoury and even possibly criminal activity.
The power to call elections has also backfired several time. I guess the most blatant example was when the voters of Ontario rejected the Liberal government of David Peterson because they thought that the timing of the election was based on what was best for it and not what was best for the citizens of Ontario.
There have also been abuses in terms of the timing of byelections. We do not have to go back very far to see a very blatant abuse of the timing of byelections because it was done by this very Liberal government that we have today. The byelection was the Ottawa-Vanier byelection that was held in February 1995. The candidates had to prepare for the campaign over the Christmas holiday period. Imagine that. In fact, the writ was dropped on December 28, 1994 for the election on February 13, 1995.
Obviously the government knew it was going to call a byelection. It had arranged the vacancy where the member who had held that seat was appointed to the Senate. All this happened very quickly and it was manipulated by the federal government in a very undemocratic and very arrogant manner. Candidates had to go door to door in the dead of winter. Obviously this favoured the incumbent party. In this case it happened to be the Liberals.
I am not making these examples solely on a partisan basis. Any political party in power, the way our election act of Parliament is set up, can place those same abuses of power on to the other political parties at a disadvantage.
In the Labrador byelection the seat sat empty from September 21, 1995 until the writ was dropped on February 7, 1996 for a March 25 election date. For Canadians and members who have not been in Labrador in February or March, it is extremely cold. It is a time of high snowfall, impassable roads, not the right time to call an election if one wants the democratic process to be properly undertaken. It was again another blatant attempt by the Liberals to use whatever advantages they could to hold on to a seat they believed to be safe. They did not want any other parties campaigning against them in an effective manner.
It may to some governments' benefit to hold the byelection in the summer when certain professional and labour groups are away on holidays, such as teachers and public servants. That too is an abuse of power. But the way our laws are written right now that is possible and has been used.
This would be a legal attempt to disenfranchise potentially hostile voters. Our election act should not allow that possibility. It may not ever happen but it certainly can happen the way the laws of
the land currently stand. Therefore we are asking this House to consider the idea that general elections and byelections be held at fixed intervals.
I have talked about the history that has led me to introduce Bill C-250, but what are the other benefits of having a system of fixed election terms? There is enhanced accountability. In conjunction with other reforms that we are proposing, such as free votes in the House of Commons, the use of referenda, citizens' initiatives, and the use of recall, this act would make Parliament more accountable to the Canadian electorate.
It would allow for better representation. It would reduce the threat of dissolution, which is a major factor used by the governing parties to keep their MPs in line. The result would be less party discipline and more independence for backbenchers.
Also because the act's provisions are related to byelections, voters in those constituencies would not be unrepresented for extended periods of time. The reason that the Prime Minister keeps the date to himself or herself regarding calling a federal election is not only to keep the opposition parties off guard but also to keep his own members in line.
Any time they would tend to want to represent their constituents, even if it were in opposition to the governing party's position, the government could say "We are going to call an election. We might call an election pretty soon. You will put yourself in a very vulnerable position. You better go with the flow, member, or else you may lose your seat or we may help you lose your seat when we call the next election".
With regard to byelections, the federal government can call it at the most opportune time for itself to win the byelection. If it is a seat that it knows it cannot win, a safe seat that belongs to another party, it can leave that seat unrepresented for an unduly long time, disenfranchising Canadians of the representation they are entitled to.
Another benefit of passing Bill C-250 would be the creation of greater fairness. It would remove the governing party's advantage of choosing the most opportune moment to call an election. The result would be a more level playing field for all political parties.
Any party and any politician who minimalizes this point does not truly respect the importance of the democratic process unfettered by government manipulation. I cannot emphasize that point enough. It is paramount to the democratic principles that we all adhere to. Any party or any politician who minimalizes this point does not truly respect the importance of the democratic process unfettered by government manipulation.
Another benefit of this bill would be more certainty. It would give the government reasonable and sufficient time to develop and implement its legislative agenda and would allow it to take some of the more difficult decisions.
This bill is not all weighted in favour of the opposition parties. A government needs a fair amount of time to implement its mandate. It tells the people that it wants to, for instance as the Liberals said, create jobs, jobs, jobs. Possibly in two years the government could say "We would like to have fulfilled that promise but we see an opportune time to call an election. Give us another mandate and we will finish the job".
Canadians want to see a measurable period of time in which a government can implement the mandate it was elected on. This way, a government can reasonably deliver on a mandate it received from the people.
Another benefit of Bill C-250 would be healthier, more open public debate. It would allow for more constructive debate in the House since opposition parties would know that the government has a fixed term.
Opposition parties would not be fighting the next election 18 months after the previous one. I noticed in the House in the first year or two we were looking at the government's record, its intentions. As we passed that 18 month mark, focus began to be that the government has completed perhaps the first half of its mandate. The government side becomes more political. The opposition side becomes more political and Canadians often take a back seat as a result of the focus on when the next election will be.
Fixed election dates would postpone some of the time that is wasted in posturing for the next election. That is a very good reason why this bill should be passed.
Finally, if Bill C-250 is passed it would be a cost efficient measure. It would allow political parties, election officials and candidates to better plan for elections. Therefore procedures could be streamlined and costs reduced.
The 1990s are a time of scarce resources and of demands for efficiency. This bill prepares Canada for the environment of the next century.
Bill C-250, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Canada Elections Act (confidence votes) was first introduced on March 27, 1996. The key elements of the bill are as follows: Clause 1 provides that the maximum duration of a Parliament would be four years. A federal election would be held on October 20, 1997 and every four years thereafter on the third Monday of October.
Provision is also made in clause 1 for the House to continue beyond four years in the time of war, invasion or insurrection, so
long as such the continuation is not opposed by more than one-third of the members of the House.
Clause 1 of the bill also provides that no dissolution of Parliament can be sought except when the House adopts a non-confidence motion and the Governor General is satisfied that it is not possible for a government to be formed with has the confidence of the House.
Clause 1 also states that the Prime Minister must request the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. It is very important that the bill does not require the Governor General to accede to the Prime Minister's request.
Clause 2 of the bill specifically provides that these provisions do not alter or affect the power of the crown to prorogue or dissolve Parliament. Perhaps I should expand on that by saying that when we drafted the bill we were very careful to not infringe on the Constitution of the nation. This bill would not require a constitutional amendment.
If I had stated in the bill that the Governor General must accede to the Prime Minister's request to hold a general election, that would infringe on the power of the crown, and we were not prepared to introduce a bill that would necessitate an amendment to the Constitution. That is why we ask the Prime Minister merely to advise the Governor General of his desire to have an election held. Under the powers given to him under the Constitution, the Governor General will choose whether or not to abide by the Prime Minister's wishes.
Clause 3 of the bill provides that writs for byelections are to be issued within two months of a vacancy occurring in the House of Commons unless the vacancy occurs within two months of the date fixed for a general election. The byelections would be held on the third Monday of April or October except in the year prior to a general election.
Since I began to draft this bill over two years ago I have received a great deal of assistance and advice. I want to inform the House that I have been co-operating with Elections Canada and have incorporated many of its suggestions into my bill. This was not a hastily drafted bill but considerable time was spent consulting with those who knew what was required under the Constitution, what would best fit Canada's parliamentary system and what would best fit into the existing laws that must be agreed on.
I have also received a lot of encouragement and support from others. Many academics and journalists have commented extensively in support of a fixed election date. It was not planned by me but it is very interesting that on February 11 an article was written by Andrew Coyne that appeared in the Montreal Gazette . It made a case for a fixed election date in a very articulate and concise fashion. I encourage all members to read the article entitled ``Fixed Voting Date Would Lessen Government Advantage''. It is an excellent piece, reinforcing many of the arguments I made to the House in my opening address on Bill C-250.
All members of the House are invited to examine this bill and the surrounding issues. I do not come to this House with an attitude of arrogance. I do not come to this House with an attitude of "it's my way or the highway" or of "it's the Reform Party's way or let's not do anything at all".
This is an election year and the focus is on how the timing of elections is determined. It is an opportunity for us to seize the issue and engage in a healthy and vigorous debate. I urge members not to mindlessly reject this bill and also not to blindly accept all the proposals. I welcome and am open to amendments to the bill. I encourage members to discuss parts of the bill with me. Certainly members from various parties have argued the need for reform in the setting and calling of byelections. I know several Liberal members have called for that. There have been debates in the past by parties other than the Reform Party calling for fixed election dates.
There is a need for electoral reform in this area. Let us work together to achieve it. Let us see if we cannot, with an issue as sensitive as the calling of election dates, see some co-operation between among the political parties. Let us set aside some of the sparring that we do over the issues such as CPP, budgets and other issues that we disagree on, to see if we cannot provide a service for Canadians so that they would know when elections were going to be held, there would be some certainty, some continuity and some good reason behind when elections were called.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to address my bill. Unfortunately I have to catch a plane in just a couple of minutes and I will be leaving the House. Certainly it is not out of disrespect for those who will follow me to speak. I will certainly read all their comments in Hansard with great interest. Should they want to come and speak to me personally about any matter with regard to this bill I would be more than happy to do that.
Agriculture February 20th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, the minister of agriculture has concocted a strange brew known as the barley plebiscite soup.
His recipe for democracy goes something like this. Take secret polls and manipulate vigorously. Mix the debate that has been simmering for over three years and then bring to a boil. Blend with a fundamentally flawed question that ignores the wishes of a majority of farmers. Add a trace of number coded mail-in ballots. Cover up for two weeks and serve with a healthy dose of cynicism.
Clearly the minister's recipe serves only one, himself.
Farmers in western Canada believe they are being denied scrutineers who would ensure the accuracy and integrity of the vote and avoid the perception of bias.
If the Liberals try to deny farmers one of the most basic fundamental rights of democracy by not allowing a proper scrutineering process it will be the minister and his fellow Liberals who will be roasted in the next election.