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.