An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Peter Stoffer  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 5, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 30th, 2001 / 2:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I thought the debate was fairly straightforward. If one gets elected as a member of a political party and decides during the mandate to cross the floor to another political party, the seat would then become vacant, a byelection would be held and the people would decide.

It would not stop a member from crossing the floor. Maybe some of the other members of parliament in the House are confused. This bill would not stop a member from crossing the floor. It says that if a member believes that what he or she has to do is right, that person should go back to the constituency and let the people decide on it in a byelection.

It is obvious that the PCs or the Liberals would not support something like this as the status quo works in their favour. They love the status quo. However, I am more than shocked to hear members of the Alliance Party, of the Reform Party that came here in 1993 and said it would change things and be more accountable, say that they would wait for the next election. That argument could be used in every case. I am quite surprised at the fact that the Alliance Party of Canada would not support this type of initiative.

I also have to say for the member for Leeds--Grenville that I think he is the only one in the House of Commons who could bring Churchill and World War II into this debate and that my parents were liberated by Canadians and that if this bill had been in effect that may not have happened. It was hysterical at the very least, but I do respect the member's opportunity to speak even if he was off topic.

This is not that difficult. The bill does not say anything about what happens if a party changes its name. That is not part of the discussion. The discussion is about if one is elected under a political banner and decides to leave that banner and go somewhere else.

I ran against Liberals, Tories and Alliance members in the last election and I think of Bruce Stephen, a good guy who ran for the Liberals and gave us a very good fight. He was a good challenger. What would he think if I woke up this morning and decided to cross the floor and be in the Liberal Party? What would his executive think? What about the people who supported him? What would he do? It absolutely flies in the face of democracy.

I ran as a New Democrat and will stay a New Democrat. If I felt I could not do it any more, if I were going to cross the floor to the Tory-Alliance coalition or the Liberals, I would at least have the decency and honesty to go back to my constituents and ask them if they would give me the permission to do that. I would ask them “Am I right?” and then I would say let us call a byelection and do it.

When the member for Leeds--Grenville talked about another member and how a byelection would cost $2.5 million, it simply was stretching it to the extreme. The fact is that if he had to run once, I suspect he would have lost that election and we never would have heard from him again. That little journey the gentleman was on is quite adventurous, there is no question, but the reality is that I think his constituents would have spoken loud and clear about his actions.

It is unfortunate that this is not votable. If possible, I would like to move a motion to ask the permission of the House to seek unanimous consent to make Bill C-218 a votable bill.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 30th, 2001 / 2 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate the NDP member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore for bringing forward this private member's bill. It brings a good debate to the House.

It is unfortunate the bill is not votable. I believe, as do a lot of members in the House, that all private member's business should be votable. The Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary over there is working hard with members of the House to work toward that. It would be interesting to have a vote on issues like the one we are debating.

It has been interesting sitting here listening to the debate. I was thinking of all the people who have been here during my career in politics. I remember Paul Hellyer leaving the Liberals to join the Tories. I remember Pauline Jewett, a member of the NDP party who joined the Liberals. Some NDP members today may be too young to remember Ms. Jewett.

Other parties have had the same changes. In the last parliament Tories went to the Liberals and to the Canadian Alliance. In this parliament members of my party have gone to sit as independents. I will talk about that a later.

It is a tough decision. Most members of parliament probably think we are the reason we are here. The reality is that few of us would be here if we did not have the support of the party for which we ran. People tend to vote for that.

I have watched pretty good people get defeated. They might get elected once as an independent like John Nunziata. He ran on an issue and his constituents supported him, but in the next election they quickly left him and went back to the party of their choice.

As important as members may think they are, they should realize this. Their egos might tell them they are more important than their party, especially after they have been here a while. The reality is that the party is the most important thing.

I respect the rights of individual members of parliament to change parties if need be, if they think that is what their constituents want. I imagine there are not many who have done that without first sitting with people in their constituencies to discuss their thoughts and why they were doing it.

The member of the Bloc talked about members switching. His party would probably not be here if it had not been for some Tories who started that movement. Byelections would not have been the way to start that party. It started because of the real feelings of members of parliament who could not get along with whatever they could not get along with.

We have to respect the tradition in this place that members have the right to make these decisions. The voters at the next election would be the ones who decide whether a member made the right decision.

The summary of Bill C-218 reads:

This enactment provides that a member's seat in the House of Commons will be vacated, thus precipitating the calling of a by-election, if the member, having been elected to the House as a member of a political party or as an independent, changes parties in the House or becomes a member of a party in the House, as the case may be, at any time during the term for which he or she was elected. A member's seat will not be vacated, if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party, chooses to sit as an independent at any time during the term for which he or she was elected.

The principle is similar to a former Reform caucus policy involving members wishing to cross the floor and join a party without losing their seat. It would reduce the temptation for members to experiment with other parties. If members were to jump to another party they would need to be sure they had the support of their constituents, otherwise their careers would be cut short.

The people who elect members to the House have a fundamental right to reassess their support if the member crosses the floor. It could be argued that this opportunity would take place at the next election. Not only electors would be allowed to express their opinion, but the party could do so as well. Through a candidate selection process the party would be given the opportunity to accept or reject the crossing of the floor.

Crossing the floor is part of our history. It is sometimes cause for procedural debate in the House. Our practice accepts members changing parties. Sometimes a change occurs voluntarily when a member simply crosses the floor. Sometimes it is involuntary and involves double crossing.

The confusion over our most recent crossings in the House may be properly compared to cross-dressing. Like gender identity disorder, some members of the House have party identity disorder. Politically it is no longer clear if they represent the right or the left. I am not sure how the bill would address such dressers. It is not always clear if they joined another party.

I am talking of course about the status of the PC/DR coalition. The PC/DR claimed party status as a party of 20. The speaker ruled it was a group of eight independents and a party of 12 and could only be afforded the resources to which a party of 12 was entitled.

How would Bill C-218 treat members of the DRC? Technically they are independents so no byelection would be required. Ethically DRC members, particularly those who were once Reform members and believed in this principle, should support subjecting themselves to a byelection. They were elected Alliance members and are now trying to be recognized as a separate party while working in a coalition with another party.

Another question that needs to be answered is how the bill would deal with Reform Party members who became Alliance members in the last parliament. They technically changed parties, but I do not think the intent of the bill is to cause over 50 byelections to take place as a result.

These are the issues that are important in Bill C-218. I will use the cost to the taxpayer as an example. In the last parliament over 50 members changed parties. If we had forced a byelection in all those areas it would have been at great cost to the taxpayer. We must think carefully about the ramifications of a bill like this one if there is major political change. We may see it happening in the country now. It happens once in a while to a great degree.

I thank the member for bringing the matter to the House. It is an interesting debate and one that deserves discussion. I hope in the future we can have a vote on something like this so it can go to committee and we can work together.

That is what parliament is all about. We are here to work together for the benefit of all Canadians. Sometimes certain members feel the urge to do something different. It is a good debate for the House to have. It is unfortunate there will not be a vote on it.

Let us remember that we are here because of our parties. Crossing the floor of the House of Commons is a serious decision, but it is the right of members to make that decision after consulting their constituents.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 30th, 2001 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

moved that Bill C-218, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it has been a long time since I have had an opportunity to formally speak on this bill in the House of Commons, although I have been giving it plugs throughout my three year career.

Bill C-218 would allow the voters and our constituents a little more power over what we do in our lives and would allow a little more democracy in the House of Commons

In essence, if a member of parliament is elected as a member of a recognized party and during the mandate of that parliament decides to cross the floor to another political party, for whatever reason, and his or her seat becomes vacant, a byelection would be called in the constituency. That individual would have to run in the byelection to allow the constituents to decide whether he or she should run under that other political banner.

I have had many consultations with many people in my riding and throughout the country about this and they believe this to be a very fine piece of legislation. The reason why it is so important is that it will make all parliamentarians more accountable to people, people who put their faith in their elected officials to represent their interests in the House of Commons. When people choose to vote for members, they believe they are voting for people who belong to a political party with specific ideology.

I ran for election as a New Democrat. I told the ladies and gentlemen of voting age in my riding that this was who I am and this was what I would do in the House of Commons.

During my term of office, if I decide, for whatever reason, that I can no longer abide by the principles and policies of the party, or have a falling out with my leader or for a variety of other reasons, and feel I would serve the best interests of my constituents by being a member of another party, then I should not make that decision alone. I should go back to the constituents in a byelection and tell them that I am now a Tory, or an Alliance, or a Bloc or a Liberal member and ask them to vote for me on that premise. That is accountability and that is democracy.

Many Canadians have a jaundiced view of members of the House. In the last federal election 40% of eligible voters did not vote. Millions of Canadians have said they do not care who we are, or what we do or what party we belong. They simply have a very jaundiced view. That is unacceptable.

Canadians must be given the right to approve or disapprove of the actions of their member of parliament. That is called democracy.

Some may wonder why I am bringing this bill forward. The fact is the NDP has actually gained members over the years. Since our party's inception, we have lost four members of parliament to other parties, but we have gained nine in the process over time. Since 1867, 137 members have crossed the floor.

I have heard people say outside the Chamber that byelections would cost too much money. In the last parliament one member was given a Senate posting and another one was given an international posting. Both were Liberals. There was no hesitation to call byelections in Quebec for those members seats. There were no worries about the costs at all. In fact, the current heritage minister stepped down a few years back on a point of principle, ran again in a byelection for the same seat and was re-elected at the cost of about half a million dollars.

The government did not seem to be too concerned about the cost of those byelections, so it should not be very concerned about the cost of a byelection when members of parliament decide to do something that their constituents may question.

It is not that difficult to understand. We are elected to represent our constituents. We are held accountable by our constituents.

I have to admit that when I first came here I was extremely naive on this whole issue. When the member for Burin--St. George's was a Conservative, he sat in our fisheries committee and lambasted the Liberals every chance he got.

One day I awoke and there he was at a press conference with the hon. member for Gander--Grand Falls. All of a sudden he was a Liberal, just like that.

That is when I introduced the bill. I asked my House leader how easy it was to do that. He said I could do that within an hour. If members go to another party and it accepts them, bang they are in. Not once do they have to go back to their constituents to ask them. Not once are they held accountable. Only at the next general election down the road is that the case.

That is political opportunism at the worst. We get paid very well for what we do. It is an honour and a privilege to be in the House of Commons. We should never ever abuse the rights and privileges we have from our constituents and never be perceived to be doing that. Perception is extremely important. If we cannot set examples for our constituents there is no other place in the land that it can be done.

It is quite clear that our constituents, in fact Canadians around the country, are asking us to be more responsible and to be more accountable. They are asking us to listen to them and bring their concerns to Ottawa. They do not like flippant answers. They do not like members of parliament who take advantage of the situation. They do not like political opportunism and they do not like political cheap shots either. They want the House of Commons to work together for the benefit of all Canadians.

It is simply unacceptable when members of parliament cross the floor to another political party when they ran against that party in the general campaign. If they feel they must do it, they should go back to their constituents, run in a byelection and let them decide if they are good enough to fly under another political banner.

That is responsible democracy and that is what we should be doing in the House of Commons. I could not believe when I brought this issue before my peers on the votable committee that it was not even deemed votable. In fairness to all the other bills and motions that were put forward, not one was deemed votable.

If any bill in the House of Commons should be votable, it is this one. If members of parliament are shy or nervous about talking about their individual responsibilities to their constituents, they really should not be here in the first place.

When I first became a politician I realized, as well as my other 300 colleagues in the House, that everything we say and do can and will be used against us in the court of public opinion. When we do something of this nature like crossing the floor to another political party it is a very serious decision. Some political parties win and some political parties lose, but the ones who really lose are the constituents in the voting public. They are the ones who say there goes another one and ask what else is new.

If we are to encourage the other 40% of Canadians who currently do not vote to come back to the ballot box to vote for their representatives, this piece of legislation would assist in that matter.

There are other questions about if members of parliament have a major falling out with their party whether they can sit as independents. Absolutely. Individual members of parliament, in the event of very moral decisions on issues such as capital punishment, abortion or whatever serious issues arise, may have a very serious or moral reason for not supporting the party position. That may put the individual MP in a bit of jeopardy with other concerns of that party. Then the individual should be able to sit as an independent.

It would also allow the leaders of political parties the opportunity, if a member of parliament all of a sudden decides to become a one person show or a bit of a renegade and very disruptive of their political parties, to force the person to sit as an independent.

The reality is that we ran under a political banner. There are three reasons we are sitting here today, why we were elected. The first is the leader. The second is the party and the other is the individual. We could argue about the percentages that are allotted to each one of those but those are the three reasons we were elected. If members cross the floor they basically tell their constituents that they do not honour two of them. That is simply unacceptable.

I encourage the House and all members of parliament to look inside themselves and go back to their constituents to ask them if they support this type of legislation, because I have and they do. If I go back to my riding and I tell my constituents that I am a New Democrat, a Liberal, a Tory or an Alliance or a Bloc member, would my constituents say that they do not mind? I tell members to ask them. I can save them a lot of time. They can do this by making this bill votable so we can stand in the House to debate the issue.

We could have had two extra hours yesterday to do it but we took a little nap. We had a little siesta here yesterday. We had a wonderful opportunity to debate this very important bill.

It is incredible that the bill is not votable. I will be asking at the end of the hour to make it a votable item. I encourage all members of parliament who will speak to this bill not to think just of themselves. They should think of their constituents, the taxpayers who pay our salaries and benefits for us to be here. Members should think of the constituents whom they represent.

To the nth degree I honestly believe that all members of parliament are here to represent their constituents under a certain political banner. If for whatever reason they cannot fly that political banner, they cannot fly that flag anymore, that is understandable. It happens. However members should have the decency and the honesty to go back to their constituents and ask them if they have the right to do that. The best way to do it is through a byelection.

If members did that, they would know if they were right. They would know that they had the backing and the trust of their constituents. They would know that they are being open, transparent and democratic. The reason we are all here is for democracy. That is why we represent Canadians in a democratic manner.

If a member uses political opportunism, if he or she tries to play with the rules of the game, it simply will not be effective. The member needs to tell his or her constituents “I can no longer abide by the principles of this particular party. I am going to cross the floor, but folks, you are going to have the final say. I am going to run in a byelection, put my name under a new banner and you will decide”, not the member of parliament.

Members are to be held accountable at all times by their constituents. It does not matter whom we are with or where we are from in Canada. The end game is responsibility to our constituents. That is the key to this debate.

I look forward to hearing what my colleagues from various parties have to say about this issue. We can be proven right. We can get more people back to the ballot box. We could be held in a better view by our constituents if we made this bill votable and gave it speedy passage.

Parliament Of Canada ActRoutine Proceedings

February 5th, 2001 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-218, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to reintroduce the bill that I call the MP floor-crossing bill. Basically it tells all Canadians that in order for us to reform parliament, we have to first reform ourselves. The intent of the bill is to state quite clearly that a member of a sitting party cannot cross the floor and join another political party during his or her term of office.

When members have a falling out they must quit, run in a byelection where they can be nominated by a new party, and allow the people of their constituencies to decide their political fate. That is probably one of the finest pieces of legislation ever to hit the floor of the House of Commons.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)