An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (members who cross the floor)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Peter Stoffer  NDP

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

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 1, 2004
(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 23rd, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-251 under private members' business.

Before the Clerk announced the results of the vote:

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise and speak in defence of Bill C-251. It is a bill designed to strengthen the rights of the citizens of Canada, the men and women who vote in all our various constituencies. The bill is not designed to strengthen the political authority of political parties as the parliamentary secretary said.

In fact, I was quite amused to hear the parliamentary secretary propose certain reform measures that would strengthen the role of MPs in committees. He said that the government had already done great things in this regard.

I can say to the hon. member that it is really bizarre to hear a member of the Liberal government talk about democratic reform. First of all, the reforms the member is talking about I first heard when I was here in 1968. Thirty-seven years ago the Liberals were talking about doing this, and the government is still talking about doing it.

As I recall, It is the same Liberal Party that when a candidate of Chinese Canadian background in Vancouver was all set to become a candidate through a democratic process in the recent election, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Martin, named the president of the Liberal Party in British Columbia over--

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-251. First, I want to tell our NDP colleague, through the Chair, that we recognize that the whole issue of members who change parties is a matter of concern. We have a nice word to describe such people; we call them turncoats. However, there is a problem with the remedy suggested by our NDP colleague, just as there was with Bill C-408 introduced by the Conservative member for Simcoe—Grey.

In order to put this into context, we must recognize that, under Bill C-408, introduced by the Conservatives—and defeated in the House—any member switching parties automatically had to step down and that seat was then up for grabs. In this case, Bill C-251 states that, when a member changes political affiliation, that member becomes and must remain an independent for the rest of that legislature. This is somewhat problematic. Had that provision had been in place in 1992-93, the Bloc Québécois could not have been created by pioneering individuals.

Hon. members will recall that, when the Bloc Québécois was founded, there was not the required 12 members. Only nine MPs had left their original party, Progressive Conservative or Liberal. Recognition as a caucus required the magic number of 12. Had Bill C-251 been in effect at that time, they could not have sat under the Bloc Québécois banner but would have had to sit as independents until the end of the session.

This strikes us, therefore, as a serious problem, particularly where Bill C-408 is concerned. We see that as a rather vicious counterattack by the Conservatives. We might even consider it an act of revenge in reaction to the move by their former colleague, the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, who, as hon. members will recall, joined the ranks of the Liberal Party this past May. Once again, the Liberals are showing how low they will stoop in an attempt to buy votes. In that case, the current Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal party dangled a ministerial appointment as a lure to get the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora to cross over to his party.

Under the guise of bolstering democracy, Bill C-251 can end up doing the reverse. It can, for instance, increase the pressure on members to toe the party line. Members who might sometimes stray from that line or sometimes criticize certain positions taken by their party, though not necessarily publicly, might end up under undue pressure from their caucus, their party, or their leader. They might be told that, if they are not happy, they might end up expelled and forced to sit as independents.

It must be remembered that to give this type of power to a caucus or the leader of a party can amount to virtually the opposite of having a member democratically elected by the constituents. In our opinion, this bill could further limit the political freedom of members, who are, in our democratic system of representation, the basis of the political system. The people elect the MP and should therefore judge his actions.

In the past two general elections, that of 2000 and of 2004, there were some 40 defectors. We should take a look at what happened with these defections, from a numbers standpoint.

We had such a situation in the riding of Châteauguay. We have to recognize the principle that the people are never wrong. The public as a whole is mature enough to decide in the next election whether it approves what a defector has done.

In this House, there was the case of Robert Lanctôt, who had originally been elected under the Bloc Québécois banner. Thanks to the dirty tricks and promises only the Liberal Party is capable of, Mr. Lanctôt crossed the floor of the House and for some time sat as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. In the next election, he was defeated. The people of Châteauguay judged him. Another colleague is sitting now as the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, the name of the riding having been changed.

In conclusion, we have to trust the public. It is never wrong. I want to reiterate what was said during the first hour of debate. Unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill. We do recognize, however, that our NDP colleague deserves support for his bill and for examining the question. Forty defectors since 2000 would appear a fairly significant problem, but we consider the doctor's remedy a little stronger than the illness requires. Perhaps the MP will have time over the holidays to think up another formula that will produce the same results, but by different means.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-251. I happened to be listening to the Rutherford show the day the hon. member introduced this bill. It was interesting that he was actually scheduled to be on this radio talk show in western Canada but he had to be in the House to introduce his bill. I noticed that the radio stations CHED in Edmonton and QR77 in Calgary broadcast live from the House a portion of his speech while he was introducing the bill. He therefore has received a good amount of publicity on this bill.

There are various ways of looking at this issue. When a member who is elected as a Liberal decides that the Liberal ways just do not cut it and decides to, say, join the Conservative Party, this bill would prevent that member from doing that.

My gut feeling says that I would rather not want to discourage that because, obviously, there are Liberals nowadays who are starting to see the light and are seeing that the direction their government is taking is not the right direction. I think that if they sincerely believe that the Liberals need to be defeated and they would like to give added strength to the Conservative Party, in a way I like that idea.

On the other hand, I can see where there are some problems with this. That member ran in the election as a Liberal candidate. During the election he said that he supported the policies and principles of the Liberal Party of Canada and, rightly or wrongly, the voters in that riding accepted that argument and elected him.

I am sure it would have been by a very narrow margin but he or she did get in. He or she comes to this place and sits in this Parliament on the government side because the Liberals got more seats than any of the other parties. Therefore the member represents what the plurality of the voters in his or her riding wanted. If during the time of that Parliament the member says that he or she can no longer sit here, that is a personal decision, a decision that says that he or she feels what happened is wrong and that he or she needs to do something about it.

I can see where that would present a real dilemma. In that sense, I have some reservation with a bill that says that when a person leaves the party to sit with another party that person should automatically lose his or her seat in Parliament and there should be a byelection. I know the intent is really well-founded.

Bill C-251 addresses that in allowing the member to sit as an independent. I sort of like that idea as a way of countering it. It is a reasonable solution in the sense that the person, as an independent, could then, probably even more than members of political parties, as we have seen in all parties, sometimes having to sort of bite their tongue and vote in a way which may be somewhat inconsistent with not only their personal beliefs but perhaps the desires of the people who elected them in the first place. That happens occasionally.

I know it happened big time in 1993 when a lot of members were chastized by the electorate because of their stand on the GST. It became quite a large issue, as members know.

If there were a crossing over from one party to another, or from a party to an independent, or from an independent position to join one of the parties, perhaps Parliament could respond to a petition in the riding. It could well be that the members of the voting public in the riding would support this position and then a byelection would actually be unnecessary.

If there were sufficient numbers of people in the riding who took umbrage at what the member had done, then, by a petition, which I will not speculate here on the number of names that would be required on such a petition, but a petition would return power back to the people. It would allow them to ask for a byelection so they could vote for a member who is with this party or that party, or even the same member under that party, but they would be able to reaffirm him or her. A byelection would have to take place because the people demanded it rather than it being triggered by some other process.

Another conundrum arises from both this bill and the one from one of my colleagues on this side, Bill C-408. Both of these bills address the issue of power of the leader.

I think one of the things that got me elected in 1993 was the stand of our party and me personally, that a member of Parliament has as a first obligation to represent the constituents who elected him or her. That is true.

I remember back in the old days, because I am old enough to remember this, that when the old CCF came in I believe it was a true grassroots party. It responded to the wishes of the people. I hesitate to say this but I think to some degree at least the NDP too has been greatly overtaken by the influence of special interest and lobby groups. I would mention unions for example and then there are others as well that I think have too great a control. However that is okay. If they can garner support from among union members I have no problem with that but I do have a problem when they get the support of the union leadership and the union then takes some of the union dues and gives it to that party. As an individual who never did support the socialistic side of the NDP in that sense, I took some objection to the fact that when I was a forced union member they took my dues and contributed them to members of the NDP to help them get elected. To me, that was a violation of my democratic right. We have these different issues.

It is important for us to remember, whether we are Conservatives, Liberals or NDP, that our strength and our legitimization comes from the support of our constituents, which is why I propose that the bill would be improved if there were a clause in it that said that a member who leaves a party may sit as an independent and perhaps not trigger a byelection as long as he or she remains independent and does not align with another party, which would be opposite.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2005 / 11:05 a.m.
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Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, today, in this second hour of debate on Bill C-251, we are debating what is undoubtedly a very important issue for Parliament.

First, I certainly support fully the idea of strengthening the vitality of our democracy. This government has placed democratic renewal front and centre in its priorities, and it is also a matter that concerns us all, as members of this House.

There is a problem with this bill, however, in that the mechanism it proposes, namely forcing a member to vacate his or her seat upon crossing the floor of the House, leaves much to be desired. If passed, this bill will not strengthen democracy. I can only weaken it, by putting even more power in the hands of political parties at the expense of elected representatives.

The bill has been presented before, by the same hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, and under the old rules in previous parliaments, it was not votable. As a result of the government's commitment to addressing democratic deficit, the Standing Orders were changed to make private members' business a more viable legislative tool. Today, as members know, most private members' bills and motions are votable and therefore have a real chance of becoming law.

The changes to how private members' business works make up just one of the changes made in this Parliament that have further empowered individual members of Parliament. Other changes initiated by our government include, for example, in our caucus, a three line whip system for votes, sending more bills to committee prior to second reading, encouraging members of Parliament to choose which committees they would like to sit on, and making government appointments available to committees for review. All of this has given members of Parliament more power in the House.

This bill, meanwhile, sends us in the opposite direction, taking the ultimate power away from individual members of Parliament and giving it, in many cases, to party leadership.

Bill C-251 overlooks the fact that, in order to play their role properly, members of Parliament have to do their best to represent their constituents well. If that means leaving their party, this is surely a decision individual members of Parliament may have to make, guided by their conscience and with the best interests of their people, their constituents, in mind.

Floor-crossing may be seen as a necessary last resort for members seeking better ways to represent their constituents. Over time, many parties have divided or transformed as they try to structure the best organization they believe will serve their voters. The creation of new parties to accommodate regional or grassroots interests is a prime example of democratic participation.

When the hon. member's bill was last being debated, it was a time of great transition for the far right of our political spectrum. The Reform Party was becoming the Alliance Party. That, in turn, lost some members to the democratic reform caucus. Later, the old Alliance Party came back together to join with some members of the previous Progressive Conservative Party to form the party that now makes up the official opposition.

If this bill had been in place over this transition period, during which there were no less than perhaps 76 party switches, the taxpayer would have had to pay over $14 million for various byelections, and arguably the transformation would never have taken place.

I find it ironic that the bill's own sponsor has been critical to some extent of a similar bill, Bill C-408, because he believes it strengthens the party structure at the expense of individual members of Parliament, while he would assert that Bill C-251 does not.

I have a different opinion than the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. In the member's own speech in the first hour of debate, he might have in fact made an argument against his own bill. On the issue of sitting as an independent member, the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore said:

Sitting as an independent in this House sometimes is not the greatest thing...It is not the best representation for constituents in some cases.

Forcing an MP who is at odds with his or her party to sit as an independent in fact contributes to disempowering that member.

In the first hour of debate, the member again made a startling admission when he said that:

The bill would allow a leader of a party to deal with an individual member of a caucus who, for example, was being a bit of a rabble-rouser or detrimental to the caucus. The leader could make that person sit as an independent member....

I hope members will agree that this is somewhat surprising in suggesting as it does that we as members of the House support a bill that would force us to be silent when we disagree with the leadership of our party for fear of forcing a byelection or being made to sit as an independent.

The hon. member's party was perhaps attracted to the notion of strengthening its hold on dissenting members of the caucus, and even included, for example, a ban on floor crossing in its ethics package, but using legislative measures to limit dissent and the ultimate expression of dissent by members of a caucus does not seem, from my perspective, to form a very appropriate part of an ethics package.

Much has changed since this debate has taken place in previous Parliaments. Members have more power to influence governments than ever before. In this regard, Bill C-251 could be seen as a step backward.

Instead of consolidating partisan control, we should strengthen the ties between members of Parliament and their constituents, as well as their influence as representatives of these constituents. That is what the government is currently doing with its action plan for democratic renewal, while Bill C-251 would be a step backward.

It is with some regret that I must tell the hon. member for Sackville--Eastern Shore that I will not be supporting this private member's bill. I have great respect for the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore. He and I share similar views on many matters, certainly matters important in Atlantic Canada, such as the inshore fishery or regional development, for example, but with respect to democratic reform and taking power away from individual members of the House and consolidating it in the hands of party leadership, he and I will have to differ.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

October 7th, 2005 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was very honoured to be asked to second this bill. I would like to begin by recognizing and paying tribute to my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore for, if nothing else, the sheer perseverance that he demonstrates in pursuing what he views as an important democratic issue. He has done so consistently since I have known him. He tells me that since 1999 he has been fighting for this issue of basic democratic fairness. I have heard him talk about it since I came here in 1997. My hat is off to my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore. I think he is underestimated sometimes. He brings great value and ideas to the House of Commons more often than not.

Having said that, I support this idea. We have to stop this criss-crossing, cross dressing, floor crossing, whatever one wants to call it, that is going on around here. I have just about had it. We never know when we come to work in the morning where everybody is going to be sitting. My colleague called it musical chairs. It does a disservice to constituents, the very people who sent us here, to be this erratic. My colleague pointed out that the broadloom in the House of Commons is very expensive carpet and members are wearing it out criss-crossing the floor the way it has been going on lately. Somebody has to put a stop to it.

Some of us get this grandiose view of what is really important about our political system, as if the members of Parliament are what our democracy is all about. In actual fact, the heart and soul of our democratic system are the thousands and thousands of dedicated volunteers, canvassers, sign chairmen and fundraisers in all of our political parties who knock themselves out to send us here.

I am fully conscious of the honour it is every day to take my seat in the House of Commons to represent my riding of Winnipeg Centre. I am also very aware that my riding was made fertile ground for my party by somebody else, a man by the name of Stanley Knowles, who represented my riding for 42 years. In many cases the people who vote NDP in my riding are voting in the memory of Stanley Knowles, and not because of who I am. In other words, they are voting NDP; they are not necessarily voting for me as a person.

When I am sent here in that context, I will not show disrespect for that view by flip-flopping and crossing the floor. People do that out of self-interest more often than not. People do not usually cross the floor for some moral or ethical conflict with their party. They do it because somebody says, “I will make you a parliamentary secretary,” or “I will make you a minister,” or “Would you not rather sit in cabinet than sit on the backbenches of an opposition party?” That is why people do it and they show great disrespect and do a great disservice to our democratic system every time they do it.

My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore has come up with a reasonable proposal. Maybe it is not as fine tuned as it could be and maybe it needs some tweaking and amending. That is what committees are for. I am taken aback to hear the opposition to this idea at this stage of debate. This is second reading stage. We could send this bill to committee for a thorough analysis and review if there is still work to be done on this subject.

On the basic principle, I could not agree with my colleague more. If I was sent here under one banner, that is the choice of the people of my riding. I should not have the right to arbitrarily and unilaterally show disrespect for their wishes and intentions by criss-crossing the floor.

In his opening speech my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore pointed out that there are four motivations that make people vote. Sometimes they cast their ballot in opposition to the other guy because they are angry with the guy who is currently there. A good chunk of people vote against something instead of for it. A good number of people vote because the leader of that party appeals to them. That determines votes for a lot of Canadians. A lot of people vote for the party because their parents voted for that party, or they themselves are active in that party. Probably number four on the list is that some vote for the individual because of who he or she is. That is the ranking of people's motivations in my experience.

As individuals let us get our heads around the fact that it is not about us as MPs. We are not that important, frankly. If a member turns his or her back on the party and the party machine in the riding that worked so hard to put the member into the House of Commons, then the member should have to sit as an independent until such time as a byelection or election gives the member the opportunity to cross over to another political party. And good luck. If the person can win the nomination for the other party, then the candidate would represent that party banner in that election.

It would be a clean system. The best thing about it is it would do away with all this hanky-panky that goes on behind the scenes now. There would not have been the recent taping incident that embarrassed all of us as parliamentarians because there would be no offers made, or accusations of offers being made. It would stop that kind of backroom dealing that so offends the sensibilities of Canadians when they learn about it. It would be one more improvement in the interests of transparency, accountability, democratic reform and improvement.

I am excited about the idea. I am surprised there was not more passion in the remarks from some of the other parties. This is an exciting idea. This is one of the most interesting things we have had to dwell on in recent memory in the debates of the House. It speaks to respect for our constituents. It speaks to eliminating borderline corruption associated with trying to buy somebody's electoral support by an offer of inducements.

Let me use my last remaining seconds to simply say that Bill C-251 would make Canada's parliamentary system better. My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore deserves great credit and the gratitude of the House for bringing the bill forward today in his tireless effort to make this a better place for all of us to work in.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

October 7th, 2005 / 1:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill C-251.

Let me start by indicating that from the point of view of my party's caucus, we feel this ought to be a free vote for members of Parliament. Hopefully, other parties will adopt a similar attitude.

On the one hand, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague for trying to infuse some ethics into what he feels is a House where ethics are not as strong as they should be. However, I believe this is a misguided attempt. I am afraid I will be encouraging members to vote against this legislation.

I will lay out my arguments to explain a little about what I think is problematic with the bill, but let me start by giving an outline of the general problem that exists with the bill.

I think it is misguided in this case to try to regulate by law that which is governed largely by convention and largely by rules of the House within this chamber. The definition of parties within this House, as opposed to under the Canada Elections Act, is very much a matter that is governed not by legislation, not law but by the rules of this House which may be changed by this House. Therefore, it seems to me that trying to establish laws that govern the behaviour of members of Parliament within the House and starting to try to use legislation to determine how parties are defined within the House and what members may do within it is taking away the independence that the House, as a collegial body, needs in order to function properly is a step in the wrong direction.

I find the road it takes us down, as a practical matter, is one about which we ought to worry. In general, I oppose anything that increases party discipline or the control of the party leadership over individual members of Parliament. The bill, although it is not as severe in restriction as it could be, seems to have that general effect.

We are elected partly as representatives of our parties, but also partly as individuals. Were this not the case, I suspect there would be a great deal less constituency work done by members of Parliament. Members understand the importance of doing good constituency work in order to get themselves re-elected. That is part of the political goodwill or in the case of non-performing MPs part of the political baggage they take with them personally. We ought to be doing everything we can to strengthen that part of the political equation as a way of building up the independence of a member of Parliament.

As someone who has voted against my party on a number of occasions, for example on the Species at Risk Act and on the anti-terrorism law a few years ago, what I did was consult with my constituents. I asked them how I should vote. When they advised me to vote for or against a bill, regardless what my party did, that put me in opposition to my party. However, I was able to do so and do so freely, partly because that is the attitude my party takes toward allowing a great deal of freedom for individual members of Parliament. However, in doing that, I was establishing myself as a constituent's representative. That is a very valuable thing, something that is lost when one is simply a representative of one's party.

We elect individual MPs in individual districts in our country. There is discussion of changing this system. For example, there is discussion of introducing a list system in parallel to the system of individual MPs being elected in individual ridings, in which case the assumption is people are voting for the party exclusively. Many New Democrats support this. This is done in a number of countries, including New Zealand and Germany. It has some good aspects and some bad aspects. One of the bad aspects is that members of Parliament elected under this kind of system tend to simply be voting machines.

In New Zealand, in particular, a law called the anti-party jumping law, and that was not its formal name, its was popular name, was introduced and passed a few years ago for members elected on the party list system. The effect has been to introduce an ironclad discipline where the member of Parliament stands for nothing whatsoever. Each party gets a certain number of MPs, which are a certain number of points or automatic votes in the House. If the member tries at any point to leave the party, the member is removed from the House of Commons and the next person on the list is taken.

MPs from New Zealand understand very clearly that if they become a list member of Parliament, if they are subject to the anti-party jumping law as opposed to being constituency MPs, their freedom of action is greatly reduced. I know this from having met and chatted with a number of New Zealand members of Parliament about this when I was down there a few months ago.

However New Zealand has taken an additional step, which I pray will never occur here. The House of Representatives is allowing members to cast their vote even when they are absent. Those are all things we would not want to see in this House of Commons.

I want to add that there have been distinguished individuals who have crossed the floor on various occasions and have been re-elected, so there are cases where it is legitimate. Winston Churchill, who was first elected as a Conservative, crossed to the Liberals and served for over a decade as a Liberal member of Parliament. Indeed, he served as the first Sea Lord of the Admiralty during the first world war and then he re-crossed to the Conservative Party.

As members can see, there have occasions on which this has occurred and the individual member of Parliament was not punished by his or her constituents for doing so because they judged that it was the right thing to do.

These are very frequent occasions, more frequent than not, where someone crosses the floor and is punished by his or her constituents and loses his or her seat. Probably the most famous example of this is the example of Jack Horner who in 1977, as the member for Crowfoot in Alberta, crossed to the Liberal Party and joined the cabinet of Pierre Trudeau as a minister without portfolio and then became a minister of industry, trade and commerce. He went on in the 1979 election, despite having been prior to this an extraordinarily popular member of Parliament, to be defeated by more than 20,000 votes in his constituency. He attempted to come back in 1980 as a Liberal candidate but actually went down from his 1979 total. Punishment came for his action.

The option exists for the voters to deal with things in this way. It is possible one could design a system whereby there would be sort of a half-way house in between waiting for an election and the immediate byelection that would be proposed by my hon. colleague in this bill. One could, for example, say that we would allow, if there was genuine support for a byelection in the relevant riding, a byelection to occur and we could measure this by saying that if more than x % of the voters of that constituency sign a petition calling for a byelection to occur, that byelection will occur.

This idea was actually proposed about 10 years ago for Jag Bhaduria who had left the Liberal Party and was sitting as an independent. A petition was circulated in his riding and produced probably enough votes under any reasonable system to justify the byelection. However there was no system for allowing this and he wound up being defeated in the next election, which suggests that although justice was not as swiftly served in that case as it could have been, it was not unreasonable action.

The second concern I have is that I do not think this law would actually achieve its intended goal. I say this because parties are reasonably informal mechanisms. It is possible for an individual to sit as an independent but always vote with another party in the House of Commons providing all the de facto support necessary to ensure, for example, the survival of that government.

The hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, for example, could have crossed, sat as an independent and voted nonetheless with the government on that critical vote a few months ago. As we all recall, there was an independent MP in the House, the late Chuck Cadman, who did not cross to the Liberals, but nonetheless had a vote that was just as effective in sustaining them in power, as was the vote of the member for Newmarket—Aurora. Therefore, the problem that is attempting to be addressed is not actually effectively addressed in the legislation.

I want to conclude by pointing out that I disagree with one characterization that the hon. member used in proposing his bill. He said that this House was not the no tell motel. Surely, when one crosses the floor this is not something done surreptitiously like checking into a motel room for a romantic liaison. It is something that happens very publicly. When someone makes the decision to cross the floor everyone knows about it. They will either reward the MP or punish the MP, as the case may be. As I have indicated, punishment occurs more frequently than reward, but it is certainly not something that happens in secret.

I believe the informal safeguards we have in place are the best ones and therefore I encourage members to vote against the bill when it comes up for a vote shortly.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

October 7th, 2005 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Russ Powers Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for bringing the bill forward for debate before the House today. He has my assurance that I will seriously consider his suggestion about speaking to my constituents about this. His latter suggestion was that if we were in opposition to what he was proposing, we should go back and talk to our constituents. Not only myself, but I would suggest a vast majority of members on this side of the House are not in support of the bill.

Bill C-251 raises very important issues for our government and the people it represents. Should members of Parliament be required to vacate their seats if they leave their political party between elections? It is our duty to debate the bill today and discuss its merits for Canadian democracy.

Other countries have struggled with this issue and it has been floated in and out of our Parliament in the form of private members' bills not less than five times in the past few years. Of those times, only once has the issue of requiring a byelection for changing party affiliation been fully debated. That time was when that member's Bill C-218 was debated in the second session of the 37th Parliament.

When we compare the circumstances of that debate and this one, three key differences stand out on whether Bill C-251 should be adopted by the House.

When the crossing the floor bill was last debated, like most private members' business, it was non-votable. In 2003 the entire manner of doing private members' business changed. Now the accepted presumption for private members' items is that they will be votable. This is significant. Individual MPs have more power than ever to influence the legislative agenda, to make law and to create policy.

Through motions, bills and concurrence motions for committee reports, members are acting as independent legislators in the House. In a fair and equal process, individual members get the opportunity to have their items heard through a draw to be placed on the list from which the order of precedence is created. Members can be put on the list regardless of party affiliation or the aim of their motions and bills.

Notably the space that private members' business offers is often distinct from the member's own party's agenda. For private members' business, many local constituency concerns get voiced in legislative form. The ability to address local issues in a national forum is invaluable to complementing the work of the federal government. In addition, individual MPs get to voice their own initiatives and policies that may not be reflected on any party agenda, injecting novel and interesting issues into the parliamentary process.

This difference in the manner in which private members' business works is momentous in the way this place operates. Last time, a significant portion of the speaking time of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore was spent speaking to the point of non-votability rather than the merits. Today, we get to have a full debate on the merits because the bill has the potential to become law.

Indeed, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore acknowledged in a recent interview with the Hill Times that “The beauty of private members' business is you don't need caucus consent”. Because it is not dependent on party politics, he or she can bring his or her bill to the House, even though support for it is not consistent in his or her own party or others.

The second difference between today's debate and that of the last Parliament is intimately related to the way in which we do business in the House. In the current minority government context, governing in a common purpose is the best way for all members of the House to transcend party lines to improve the lives of all Canadians. We are each joined by a commitment to unity and an inclusion of all regions and all voices on the national stage.

As such, to complement the changes in the standing orders around private members' business, the government has worked diligently to improve the processes of government, infusing the spirit of inclusion throughout our public institutions. For instance, parliamentarians are increasingly involved in key government appointments and are more empowered to affect the government policy in parliamentary committees. All these measures are aimed at renewing Canadian democracy so we can be effective in representing the people of Canada.

However, Bill C-251 presumes that we operate under a completely different electoral and political framework. By requiring members to leave Parliament if they change their party, Bill C-251 ignores the function of MPs as “individual parliamentarians” and places a primacy on party politics over democratic governance.

Governing in a common purpose should be about seeking to build partnerships and compromises on important issues facing Canadians. In contrast, Bill C-251 seeks to entrench factionalism and create discord between parliamentarians. The bill disregards shifting circumstances that may legitimately drive an MP to change parties between elections.

This disregard is closely related to the third difference between the last debate on crossing the floor and this one. That was a time of great transition in the House. New parties were being formed, membership was splitting and merging, and the degree of party switching understandably heightened. Technically, some members changed their party affiliation more than once or even twice.

Were the provisions of Bill C-251 actually in place, there would not have been enough time to set up byelections between party changes from Reform to Alliance to Democratic Reform to Progressive Conservative to Conservative. The resulting cost to taxpayers and the administrative burden on Elections Canada would have been enormous. Would such byelections have really furthered Canadian democracy? I would suggest no.

Historically, MPs in Canada, as in England, have used floor crossing as a necessary last resort in seeking better ways of representing their electorate. Over time, many parties have divided or transformed as they try to structure the best organization for serving the people. The creation of new parties to accommodate regional or grassroots interests is a primary example of civic engagement and democratic participation.

Bill C-251 would capture all these instances of party changes, expanding the vulnerability of a member's seat far beyond anything that we have ever seen. Currently, aside from death and conviction of a very specific set of criminal acts, members are secure in their elected positions.

This system creates an environment that lends confidence and power to the individual member to act as she or he believes is in the best interests of the people and the people that they represent. Bill C-251 would turn this system on its head, essentially according party leaders the power to eject members from Parliament if they then sit with another party in the House.

Much has changed since this bill was last debated in the House. Changing circumstances are the business of politics. It is what we address and manage to protect and advance the lives of Canadians. Sometimes that change requires changing parties, building new alliances or reorganizing our current ones. For that to entail a loss of our status as a member of Parliament, our mandate from the people, is an unprecedented step that does not strengthen our democracy.

Members have more power to influence government than ever before and we should each be harnessing this power to govern with the common purpose of improving our country. This is why I personally, and as I have indicated the vast majority I expect on this side of the House, cannot support Bill C-251. The issues it raises are important, but the measures it proposes are counterproductive.

Each member of the House wants to strengthen and renew Canadian democracy. This is why we entered politics and came to Ottawa. That is the reason why I came here. Revoking a member's elected mandate because they change parties moves us backwards rather than forward toward this goal. I urge all parliamentarians in this House to reject this bill for this reason.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

October 7th, 2005 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

moved that Bill C-251, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (members who cross the floor), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this bill has been six years in the making. There have been two elections and now we finally get to debate a little responsibility among ourselves toward our constituents.

Bill C-251 has resonance for all Canadians across the country. It basically states that members of Parliament have to act in a more responsible and accountable manner to the constituents who send us here. We do not own these seats. We only use them on behalf of our constituents. It is an honour and a privilege and in many cases the ultimate dream for people to be a member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons.

Bill C-251 originated in 1999 when a colleague in the Progressive Conservative Party decided to become a Liberal member. Prior to that, the individual had been a fantastic fisheries critic for the Progressive Conservative Party. I could not help but notice in our committee at that time that that individual was speaking rather strongly against the Liberal government's attitude toward fishermen and their families. In the following days, while the words of that speech were still echoing, the member was standing in room 130-S with Mr. George Baker, now Senator Baker, announcing to the world that he had become a Liberal.

How do constituents react when their member, who had been elected as a Progressive Conservative, decides to become a Liberal without their consultation, advice or vote? That is only one example. Liberals have moved over to the Conservatives. Bloc members have gone to the Liberals, and Conservatives have become Bloc members. Even New Democrats, heaven forbid, have gone over to the dark side, but many people have come to us as well. The fact is that the House is not a game of musical chairs. We do not just run around until the music stops.

I remind everybody that we were elected to the Canadian House of Commons. It is not the no tell motel where we check in under an assumed name. That is not the attitude. The reality is we are responsible to our constituents. It is our constituents who determine what we do, what is best for us.

When a person seeks the nomination of a political party, that person gets the banner of that party, puts up lawn signs and tells everyone, “I am going to run under this political party banner. Please vote for me. The other parties will not stand up for you. The other parties are not for you. Only the people in this party can meet your needs and stand up for you with a strong voice in Ottawa”. If that person gets elected, he or she comes to Ottawa, becomes part of a political party caucus and part of the process.

Then all of a sudden the member may decide, and in most cases it is for opportune reasons, that the party he or she was elected under is no longer suitable to his or her particular desires. There may be many reasons. The member may decide to crack open that door just a little, or somebody else may open that door, and there are enticements, offers, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, nice little lunches and dinners and all of a sudden that person moves to the opposition side or the government side. That is not what we came here for. We came here to be responsible and accountable to our constituents.

Bill C-251 is very clear. If a member of an elected party sits in the House of Commons and for whatever reason decides to no longer sit with a certain political party, that member should sit as an independent member until the next election. The member could make his or her intentions known, but he or she would sit in the House as an independent member.

If the person's desire is to move to another political party, then it is quite simple. The member should go back to his or her constituents and resign. Of course, a member could do whatever he or she would like to do, once the member resigned.

The premise would be to seek the nomination of that political party, then go back to the constituents and ask them for their permission and their votes in a byelection if need be. He or she could then say, “I feel I can now represent you under this banner”. Let the constituents decide the person's political future. We in the House of Commons should not decide our own futures. That is up to the constituents. They are the taxpayers. They are the ones who put us here. They have the ultimate say in what we do.

The bill would also allow a leader of a party to deal with an individual member of a caucus who, for example, was being a bit of a rabble-rouser or detrimental to the caucus. The lead could make that person sit as an independent member and that person would stay as an independent until whenever.

A gentleman from Vancouver Island, and I forget the name of his riding, left the Conservative Party and sat as an independent. He said, “In the next election I plan to run for the Liberal Party”. That is exactly what should be done. Members who leave their parties should sit in the House as independents. They can make their intentions known, but they should sit as independents.

Sitting as an independent in this House sometimes is not the greatest thing. There is no caucus. There are no critic areas. There is no question time. Independents are on their own and they are pretty silent voices for a long time. In a minority situation, however, independent members tend to have a little more power, but in a majority they are on their own. It is not the best representation for constituents in some cases.

The Conservatives also have a bill, and I give them credit for trying, but unlike others, their bill basically says everything my bill says, except that once a member leaves his or her party, the member sits as an independent and is forced to have a byelection in 30 days. The Conservatives have been the Alliance, the Reform, the Progressive Conservatives and the Democratic Caucus. They have had a variety of name changes over time. In some cases I think their caucus is slowly getting together but the reality is, why would they give their leader that much power? Their leader could say to one of their members, “If you do not do what I have told you to do, you will be made to sit as an independent,” and the member would have to go to the polls within 30 days. That gives the leader of any party far too much power. I like my leader an awful lot and he is doing a great job for Canada, but I would not want him or anyone else to have that kind of power over individual MPs.

There always will be certain crises within government, in opposition and in other parties when, for whatever reason, a member cannot abide by the principles and policies of the party. For example, the member for London—Fanshawe recently left the Liberal Party to sit as an independent because he could not accept the viewpoint of his government on a particular bill. He is sitting as an independent. That is fine.

With respect to another member who sits right next to me, the Prime Minister said, “This member is causing a bit of a rift within the caucus. We are going to make her sit as an independent”. That is fine, but members should not lose their employment because of that. The reality is that we are elected for four separate reasons: to toss out the current representative or government; people also vote for the individual; they vote for the leader of a party; or they vote for the party. If one sits as a member of Parliament with a registered political party, he or she should not have the right to switch over to another party during that term, but should go back to the constituents and ask them for their permission.

It boils down to democracy. There is the recent issue with David Dingwall. People look at David Dingwall as just another example of government corruption, of all politicians. The thing with Mr. Dingwall is that it coats all politicians in the same way. People do not differentiate between government and MPs of other parties. They look at us all the same, that we are crooks, that we are opportunists, that we are only in it for ourselves.

The fact is that this piece of legislation of mine will put just a bit of responsibility back on us so that the constituents can pull in the reins on us a bit. We should not be free wheeling. We have a responsibility to them. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this country and to the voters.

How in the world are we going to encourage young people to vote if this flip-flopping and turning around, patronage, cronyism, and you name it continues? Forty per cent of Canadians do not vote now. If there were a federal election tomorrow, probably even fewer would vote. That is a travesty of democracy.

We need to encourage Canadians to vote, but prior to us doing that they need to have confidence in their elected representatives. They must be confident that we will do what we say and say what we do. The fact is that we cannot make grandiose promises to people. We cannot tell them that if they vote for us we will do this and that and everything else and then at the bat of an eye join another political party. How can a person do that?

I am very interested in seeing how the member of Parliament from Richmond votes on this particular bill. As we all know, in the 2000 general election, a gentleman from the Alliance Party, Joe Peschisolido, beat the member from Richmond, who was in cabinet at the time. He beat him in a fair and square fight at the polls. The constituents of Richmond, B.C., wanted an Alliance member as their representative. That was fine.

What happened six months later? Without a word of warning to the people of Richmond, Mr. Peschisolido became a Liberal, just like that. The members of the Liberal Association of Richmond, British Columbia, said they did not want him as their representative. They said they wanted the guy they had worked for, the member from Richmond.

Let us imagine how the defeated candidate must have felt. He was defeated in a fair fight at the polls and yet six months later the guy who beat him switched and was wearing the defeated candidate's colours in the House of Commons. How would we feel if that happened to us? I cannot help but think of all the defeated candidates who ran against the people who have since crossed the floor. I wonder how they feel now. Let us think about the associations and the volunteers who worked so hard out of their belief in a political party. How do they feel when an individual, just like that and without any concern for any of them, flip-flops right to the other party?

It has to stop and it has to stop now. I encourage each and every one of my colleagues in the House of Commons to stop looking at their political futures as a selfish end to their means. I urge them to look at their political careers as a way of being of assistance to their constituents. I urge them to look at their political careers as being a responsibility to their constituents. The constituents of the 308 ridings that we represent here in the House have the right to expect us to ask them for their permission to switch parties.

There are classic examples of this having already happened, but if my bill were enacted it would stop the wink-wink, nudge-nudge that goes on in this place. We know about the Conservative member for Newton—North Delta, who allegedly taped conversations in which it was indicated that if he and his wife were given something then he could quite possibly look the other way and help the other party out. Helping out the other party could result in someone getting a title somewhere or a consulate position somewhere. It could involve crossing the floor.

If Bill C-251 were enacted, crossing the floor would not be an option. We have to stop this cronyism. We have to stop this wink-wink, nudge-nudge, silent backroom dealing that benefits people.

A lot of people think this legislation is against the member for Newmarket—Aurora, but that is simply not true, although she did cross the floor. If my bill had been in force at the time she crossed the floor, she would have been required to sit as an independent. She could have done whatever she wanted to do as an independent, but she would not have been able to cross the floor to join the Liberal Party.

I want to remind everyone that I have had this legislation on the books since 1999. She is just part of this. This is not a personal vendetta against anyone. I have great respect for all my colleagues in the House, even when they cross the floor. I can appreciate and understand some of the situations they may be in, but I want to take the option of crossing the floor away from members of Parliament and give the decision back to constituents. It is the constituents who indicate to us what we should be doing.

I will be listening intently to my colleagues in the House of Commons as they speak to my bill, but I will give one piece of advice to every member of Parliament. If members do not think this bill is worth supporting, then I ask members to go back to their constituents and do a poll or a ten-percenter asking them what they think about a member of Parliament who crosses the floor in the middle of a term. I guarantee that almost unanimously their constituents will tell them they are not allowed to do that. I believe their constituents will tell them that they have to seek guidance from constituents in a byelection or a general election before they do that.

This legislation has been six years in the making and we are finally getting an opportunity to debate it. I look forward to the debate. Most important, I look forward to the vote on this legislation to see exactly how my colleagues will behave.

Parliament of Canada ActRoutine Proceedings

November 1st, 2004 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-251, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (members who cross the floor).

Mr. Speaker, this is now the fourth year that I have had this bill on the books.

If an elected member of Parliament wishes to cross the floor from his or her current position to another party, or as an independent to another party, that member of Parliament should be made to resign his or her seat, seek nomination for the new party he or she wishes to fly under, go back to the constituents and allow the people of the riding to determine if they wish to be represented by a different party. That is what we call democracy.

I am sure that with careful consideration the bill will have great support from all members of Parliament in the House.

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