Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise on the particular item today. I will be splitting my time with my Canadian Alliance colleague from Wild Rose who will be wrapping it up at the end of the hour. I would like to read the text of the motion into the record again. It states:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to draft, and report to this House no later than November 1, 2001, changes to the Standing Orders improving procedures for the consideration of Private Members' Business, including a workable proposal allowing for all items to be votable.
For our viewing audience and those looking in, the important part of the motion is to come up with a workable proposal allowing for all private members' business items, meaning the motions and the bills introduced by individual MPs, to be votable.
I commend my Canadian Alliance colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, for bringing forward the motion. We should not be surprised as he has brought forward many other fine things on agriculture, opposition to the gun bill and so on. I commend him on the common sense proposal he brought forward that hopefully will have the support of members on all sides of the House when the vote is taken. I also commend the members for Scarborough—Rouge River and Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik on their comments. They made some thoughtful and supportive remarks as well.
Private members' business for those of us in this place is indisputably valuable because it ought not to be on party lines. MPs have a greater latitude to vote freely, which is not generally the case with government business. There is that sense that if we do not vote a government bill forward then it is a lack of confidence. I believe that is a myth, a problem, and hopefully we will bring that down some day. As it stands, private members' business is not a perceived threat to the government. It is not perceived as a vote of non-confidence in the government of the day.
The motion we have before us in terms of all private members' business being votable would improve private members' business. Without a doubt it would give a backbencher a more meaningful role. Backbenchers from the government side and from opposition parties could put forward sane and sensible proposals called for by constituents throughout the country.
These proposals would have a good chance of being adopted on a non-partisan basis. It would be good for members of parliament and backbenchers in the sense that they would be forced to listen to debates carefully since they would be voting freely and not necessarily with their parties. They would have to form an opinion of their own rather than some ministerial department or critic crafting a particular recommendation. It is good from that point of view as members would have to assess, engage and think through the merits and implications of a particular item.
It would also encourage Canadians to vote for a local candidate because of his or her views and not just for a national party. That would be good for democracy in that it would engage more people because the individual who is going forward, be it a nomination within a party and subsequently at election time, would likely be putting the ideas he is a strong proponent of into the form of a private member's bill.
It would in some sense revolutionize the process. That is probably not too strong a word in the sense that it would engage more constituents and more of the public across our country in democracy. Many have grown cynical and apathetic and I think this would be a way of turning that around.
It also respects the democratic rights of constituents because private members' business is currently the only real way that an MP's constituents can have direct input between elections into actual legislation. Some might say if individuals are close to a minister they could have input in that way, but I think it would be fair to say that over the course of the last number of years it is the Prime Minister's Office that controls it. It is even questionable how much influence various ministers around the cabinet table exert.
In a very deep way private members' business would give the opportunity of direct input from constituents via their members of parliament. We must improve it if we can. Making private members' items votable is an obvious improvement because democracy demands that we actually vote on something. It makes sense that if there is something coming forward we should be able to vote on it.
For example, the prime minister of the day could call for an election campaign to run a certain length of time. Individuals throughout the country could simply present their ideas. If, when everyone reached an end point, which would be election day, there were no vote, there would be nothing. In this respect it only makes logical sense that if there are items put forward, debated and so on, they should be voted on.
The follow-up is that the current system is undemocratic. How could there be democracy without any voting? The problem of items not being made votable has worsened in the past while. In the second session of the 36th parliament 30% of drawn items were made votable, but in this session it is only 20%.
I will not belabour the lack of democracy because it has been mentioned by others. Some even see the subcommittee's decision making as being rather arbitrary. Some go further to say it is an unfair selection process. With regard to the stated selection criteria, there is a grid that we are supposed to fall into line with to make items votable.
It seems that most members following that criteria can make an item such that it would be votable. Yet it comes down to a judgment call by a small subcommittee that operates on a consensus basis. It is incomprehensible. It is ineffable to some of us why some are not made votable. We need something changed in that respect.
My own experience was that I had 100 signatures of members of parliament voting for something that I brought forward. It was a freedom of conscience bill, Bill C-246. I assumed that it would be a matter of a vote at the end of the day. That was the whole point of gathering the signatures. Something went sideways on it and the process was suspended. I did not have the vote as I assumed I would after having collected so much support across the House of Commons. It was only the waste of time and energy that went into it.
People talk about drawbacks but there are ways that we can respond. Some say that there would not be enough time for House business if every item were votable. The time for debate can be reduced on each item. The number of items drawn can be reduced. The time allotted to private members' business can be increased. There are all kinds of ways in which we can respond to that.
If silly items are sometimes introduced, the individual probably pays the price politically. However that has been very rare. The House would obviously vote against those frivolous things. I think any of these things can be addressed. In my view there is no concern that cannot be responded to in terms of making all items votable.
I strongly support the motion the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville put before us today. I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to give it due consideration and have it put forward for the fall session.