Mr. Speaker, I wish to begin by congratulating you on your election to the office of Speaker and to offer you the co-operation and support of our Reform members.
Canadians made it abundantly clear on October 25, 1993 that they were not pleased with the performance of many members of the 34th Parliament and that they clearly expected a different style of conduct from the members of this Parliament.
As both a member and the presiding officer of this House you have a mandate from the people to encourage a higher standard of behaviour. As a group, we pledge our co-operation with you in discharging that mandate.
I would also like to congratulate all members for their election to the Canadian Parliament, and in particular the right hon. member for Saint-Maurice who was elected prime minister of Canada.
There are several people whose ambition to become prime minister exceeded that of the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, but very few people have served their country, the House of Commons and the government as faithfully as he has. I think it is important for new members in this House to see that not only ambition, but experience, knowledge and dedication are also rewarded.
A great man once said: He who wants to be a leader must be at the service of others. We would like to congratulate the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien who has become our leader.
Third, I want to especially thank the electors of Calgary Southwest for giving me the opportunity to represent them in this House.
I know from months of town hall meetings, surveys and door knocking that our electors have definite hopes and aspirations for this Parliament. They hope against hope that we will be able to control federal spending and taxation. They hope that we, the members of this Parliament, will be free to represent their interests even if that conflicts with our party line. They hope that we will be capable of giving to all Canadians a fresh and vigorous vision of a new federalism capable of carrying us into the 21st century.
I feel, as I am sure all members feel, an enormous sense of responsibility that we do not frustrate those hopes and aspirations.
I realize-and many of us as new members have been reminded of this on numerous occasions already-that much of the conduct of this Chamber is frequently bound by precedent. However, there is a sense in which the 35th Parliament should consider itself a House beyond precedent.
The reduction of the representation of a traditional federal party in this House from 152 seats to 2 seats is unprecedented in the history of federal politics although this fact does not seem to have registered yet on the member for Sherbrooke. The election of over 200 new members has already been referred to and is also unprecedented. The ideological and geographical alignment of the political parties in this House is also unprecedented.
In other words, in electing this House Canadians themselves have broken with precedent. Therefore we believe it would be fitting that this House also break with precedent in some important areas, especially in the conduct of its own business.
For example, our Reform group does not intend to conduct itself as a traditional opposition party. We feel ourselves bound to rigorously scrutinize everything that the government puts forward but we do not consider ourselves bound to oppose everything that the government puts forward.
In scrutinizing the speech from the throne we will seek to identify and give credit to the measures we consider good. We will also seek to identify and expose those measures that we consider weak or ill-advised but when we do the latter we will feel an obligation not simply to criticize or oppose but to offer constructive alternatives.
We think of this House, which is beyond precedent, as a three-cornered House. There is the government, the Official Opposition whose members wish to take their province out of Canada, and Her Majesty's constructive alternative.
In keeping with this positioning, our principal contribution to the throne speech debate will be threefold. We will analyse the government's program from a variety or perspectives: fiscal, economic and social. We will offer proposals for improving the government's legislative program in the interests of all Canadians and we will put forward a subamendment designed to improve the government's program. The passage of our subamendment should not be viewed as an expression of non-confidence but as a constructive addition which government members themselves could support.
Allow me then to speak for just a moment on the most commendable feature of the speech from the throne, its greatest weakness and a proposed improvement.
We believe that the most commendable feature of the speech from the throne is its promise to enhance the credibility of Parliament. However the objective of any parliamentary reform in our judgment should be to create a freer Parliament, not just a more efficient one, a Parliament where members are free to express and vote the positions of their constituents even when it conflicts with party lines.
Parliamentary reform of course, including this type of reform, has been promised before. Hopefully this government intends to act on its promises. The public is tired of the hollow eloquence of words and longs for the eloquence of deeds.
For example, nothing would enhance the credibility of Parliament more than the institution of genuinely free votes. What we and many Canadians would like to see is for the Prime Minister to rise in his place today or tomorrow and clearly declare to you, Mr. Speaker, the following policy as a policy of his government: That the government will not consider the defeat of a government motion, including a spending measure, to constitute an expression of non-confidence in the government unless it is immediately followed by the passage of a formal non-confidence vote.
That takes about 30 seconds to say. I say to the Prime Minister if he were to do that he would be known as the liberator of Parliament no matter what.
We hope over time that this House and even the media will come to see cross-over voting, the number of times that a member crosses over party lines in the interest of constituents, not as a sign of party weakness or dissension but as a sign of the strength of genuine democracy in this Chamber.
At the beginning of this session we want to commend the government's commitment as contained in the speech from the throne to enhance the credibility of Parliament. We think that is one of the strongest features of its program if it follows through on it.
Allow me to turn to the greatest weakness of the government's legislative program and the area that we feel is most in need of improvement. All members are aware of the fiscal legacy which the previous Conservative administration left to the people of Canada and to the 35th Parliament. The distinguishing features of that legacy are, and this is the bottom line of the fiscal regime of the government that preceded this government, a record federal deficit for 1992-93 of $40.5 billion and a total federal debt as of noon yesterday of $500 billion.
I say to hon. members that the greatest challenge facing this Parliament, whether their commitments are constitutional, social or to jobs, is to control federal overspending. I frankly expected that challenge to be acknowledged and addressed more forcefully and directly in the government's legislative program, not just in a budget two or three months hence.
Traditional throne speeches, and this speech is very traditional, always listed things that governments proposed to do. However the throne speech of a government that is $500 billion in debt ought to contain a new section listing the things that government proposes to stop doing. This speech contains no such section. Perhaps the Minister of Finance was not given equal time in its preparation. It would be vastly improved if it did and if it included such items as the following: a specific commitment to stop the payment of premature and excessive pensions to parliamentarians; a commitment to stop subsidizing crown corporations to the tune of $6 billion per year accompanied by a schedule for the gradual elimination of such subsidies; a commitment to reduce non-salary overheads of government departments and agencies by at least 15 per cent; a commitment to stop paying OAS and other income transfers to high income households; a commitment to stop regional development programs that simply do not work; and a commitment to identify and eliminate all unnecessary government functions.
To remedy this weakness in the government's legislative program, I ask this House to consider restricting its spending in the fiscal year 1994-95 to less than $153 billion by adding a simple spending cap to the government's legislative program.
Members familiar with the government's financial statements will know that the federal government is currently projected to spend $162 billion in 1994-95. The spending cap we propose represents a 6 per cent reduction in that amount. How such a reduction should be made can be the subject of the budget debate and speech. The point of adding the spending cap to the government's legislative program now is to send a signal to investors and taxpayers that in the very first days of this session members on both sides of the House are deadly serious about reducing federal spending.
The subamendment I will propose is an expression of non-confidence in the spending patterns established by the previous government. Is there any member of this House, with perhaps one or two exceptions, who could not vote for that? This amendment or subamendment is not an expression of non-confidence in the government's legislative program. It is a simple improvement which says: Whatever legislative program this House adopts we must not spend more than $153 billion on its implementation in 1994-95. I invite all members of the House including government members to support this spending cap.
In conclusion, yesterday members honoured an ancient parliamentary tradition by following you, Mr. Speaker, to the other place and by listening to the speech from the throne and by claiming all the ancient rights of the Commons in the name of the people. The most important of these ancient rights, indeed the first function of the early British Parliaments, and the first function was not a legislative function, the only function of the original Parliaments was to constrain the spending of the crown.
I implore the members of this House to reassert this right of the Commons, not simply in symbolism or in words but by legislative action, by crowning the speech from the throne with a spending cap.
That the amendment of the leader of the opposition be amended by adding immediately after the words "federal administration" the following words:
particularly the need to restore public confidence in the ability of this House to control the federal deficit and overspending and to limit the government's spending in the fiscal year 1994-95 to less than $153 billion.