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.