Mr. Speaker, it has been a marvellous week and this kinder, gentler House is soothing. It is absolutely soothing. I am hearing rumblings among the old boys and girls that it is not like it used to be. I admit I used to love having a spar or two with John Crosbie from St. John's West and we are going to miss fellows like Crosbie, but we are also going to miss people like Bernie Valcourt and Michael Wilson. You know there are some things you do not mind missing.
I am proud to stand as I have done either here or in the legislature in St. John's for the past 20 years and represent the people of the south coast of Newfoundland and since 1988 a chunk of the west coast of Newfoundland as well with the expansion of the riding that is now Burin-St. George's.
Let me tell you about those people. There is George Sam Fudge, a fisherman in his forties from a community called François, a community of 150 people, who until a year or so ago when I last spoke to him personally had never in his 30 years of fishing drawn a cent of unemployment insurance. There is at least one Newfoundlander out there who is not on UI 42 weeks a year.
There is Minnie White who was here in Ottawa a few weeks ago to receive the Order of Canada because she is one of the best accordion players in Canada and is making quite a contribution to preserving the Irish tradition in Newfoundland from her community of Tompkins.
There is Misel Joe, a proud Micmac in his late thirties, who has been both chief and spiritual leader of his Micmac band at Conne River in my riding. There is Lisa Cheeseman who is for the moment in Kingston, in the riding of my colleague, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, at the Royal Military College, but who before that was at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean where she had taken second place in her engineering class there.
There is Tommy LaFitte who is 103 years old and whose father came from France. Tommy, his son and I celebrated his 100th birthday at the SkyDome in Toronto.
Yes, these are the people for whose voice I am here, these and 86,000 others in 158 communities stretched along 1,500 miles of rugged coastline.
I am, as I have been for 20 years, their man in Ottawa. I am not Ottawa's man in Burin-St. George's. I have not come here to blindly support government policies, but rather to help craft policies which will help my people in Burin-St. George's and to oppose those which do not help them. That is why I support the extension of custodial management beyond the 200-mile limit to preserve our fisheries, but it is equally why I oppose with everything in me the GST.
Mr. Speaker, as you can see, I represent franco-Newfoundlanders. There are three small villages on the Port au Port peninsula: Grand'terre, l'Anse-aux-Canards and Cape St. George where people protect their tradition, their culture and the language of their Acadian ancestors who came to Newfoundland following the 1755 deportation. Furthermore, many others decided to stay in my riding when they came off French ships during the last century.
Yes, the Micmacs are there also and the Scots came and the Irish, the Welsh and the English so that today Burin-St. George's is one of the more culturally diverse areas of eastern Canada.
I was not born a Canadian. In 1948, my parents requested voted to become Canadians. My country was Newfoundland and it still is Newfoundland. But these days, it is also Canada. The people of Newfoundland did renounce their independence 45 years ago, not at all; they just adopted a larger independence.
That larger independence will stand us in good stead not far from now when Canada takes over custodial management beyond the 200-mile limit of our fish stocks.
Who in his or her right mind would ever suggest that the dominion of Newfoundland, the republic of Newfoundland and Labrador could have ever hoped to have tackled alone the entire world on that important issue?
Independence and no more semantics. I say this to my Bloc Quebecois colleagues. I also want to say something else to the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, particularly the member for Richelieu, the member for Saint-Hubert and some others who were here during the last session and who surely remember what I said in this House two years ago, and I quote:
"I will vote for a motion any day that runs this crowd clean out of this place once and for good. I will go for that motion because they do not belong here."
Yes, Mr. Speaker, I said that. But I was wrong, very wrong. In fact, during the election campaign, I was offended from time to time with some people suggesting that the Bloc candidates did not have a right to sit in the Parliament of Canada. That suggestion is ridiculous and even insulting. Those people wanted to deny others what they were claiming as having the right to do. The day that we start considering some viewpoints as acceptable or unacceptable in this Parliament, we will be imposing limits on democracy.
There are only three requirements to get here: We have to be 18 years of age, and good Lord most of us look 18 to me; we have to be a Canadian citizen; and we have to get ourselves elected. Those are the only three requirements to get here. Nobody looks behind and says: "The member for Simcoe Centre, now what does he represent? No that is not acceptable. What does the member for Nanaimo-Cowichan represent? Oh, that is acceptable". We do not do it that way. We say: "You are 18, you are a
Canadian and you got yourself elected. Come on in". You get past the bar if you satisfy those three requirements. That is how I got here. That is how the NDP got here and even a couple of Tories made it here that way. How democratic can we get? Why should it be any different for the Bloc?
My new friend from Simcoe Centre voiced his disappointment here yesterday over the focus during Wednesday's sitting on the issue of constitutional matters. I have to tell the member that I share his view on that. The constitutional future of Quebec, I say to my friends in the Bloc and also to my friends on this side particularly my friends from Quebec, is a crucial subject, but it is not going to be resolved in this Chamber.
Parliament has no mandate to arbitrarily decide the future of a province. Imagine the uproar there would be if the government leader stood up one day and put down a motion to talk about the future of Saskatchewan or New Brunswick without having consulted the people most directly affected, the people of that particular province. Surely it is the people of that province who must decide.
I say this kindly but I say it firmly and with conviction, those who insist on pursuing the Quebec debate here do a disservice to the people who sent them here. I trust Quebecers to make the right decision when the time comes. The time is not now and the place is not here.
I have a lot of new-found friends and I do not know what to do with them all. My new-found friend, the leader of the Reform Party, the gentleman from Calgary Southwest, said that the credibility of Parliament would be enhanced by the institution of genuinely free votes. He is right. I have to check with my colleagues because I am up here agreeing with two Reformers in a row and I am about to be run out of here. However, he is right.
It is too late on a Friday afternoon, I say to the member for Winnipeg St. James, to take him on. It is too late. I am in too charitable a mood. I am trying to get psyched up for Sunday.
I agree with the leader of the Reform Party. This place does need free votes. This place does need a bit of a shaking up. It is in that context that I believe the Reform caucus, together with the 199 people who are here for the first time, are a breath of fresh air around here because there are enough of the old guys and girls to keep what is good from the past but not enough to block some change and we need some change.
I want to say just a word of caution as it relates to the issue of the concept of free votes. Do not oversell the idea and do not get carried away because it is not the panacea that it looks like at first glance. Let us not inadvertently mislead the public on the issue that free votes somehow will suddenly double their paycheques, lower their taxes and solve all their other problems. It is not that simple. Hear me out for a moment.
Even if we embrace immediately the concept of free votes, I give you notice now, Mr. Speaker, that in the overwhelming majority of cases I intend to vote with my caucus. I will tell you why. I submit that so will the member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia. I submit that so will the gentleman from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. I submit that so will people from other parties. Why? It is for a very good reason. It has nothing to do with being sheep. It has nothing to do with being servile putty in the hands of relentless party leaders who will not bridge dissent.
If I support a government measure perhaps to spend money on a youth service corps or to cut defence spending, both policies of our government, both of which I support but I throw them in as examples, it will be because I have had a hand in crafting those policies in my caucus.
I assume that when the Reform stood yesterday en masse without exception and voted for the subamendment it was not because they were a bunch of sheep. It was because they had consulted each other on that issue. More to the point, they were carrying a pretty strong mandate from their electors on that matter.
Therefore you can get your jollies out of talking about free votes all you want and I will too-and I want some free votes-but do not let anybody think, suggest or mislead the public on the idea that somehow everybody is going to be voting all over the place every day of the week. If that is the case, this country is not going to be well served. We would have to wait for this Chamber to have a meeting of 295 minds. It is better to have Wednesday morning meetings of 52 minds in one room, 54 in another room, 177 in a third room, 9 in a fourth room and the other 2 in a telephone booth. For my hon. friend from Beauce, of course all he needs is a fair-sized mirror.
Then when one gets a good consensus after it is fought out in that caucus room, come here and let us take a vote on it. If someone does not like what the caucus is doing, stand up and have a free vote. If five of us do not like what the other 172 are saying, stand up. That is a free vote. We did it in this caucus and I can name names but will not. Two of them are still members of this caucus and the other is not here because he elected not to run again.
We had the situation a year or so ago on gun control. Three of our members stood up in this House and opposed the party position on gun control. We were supporting the government measure for tighter gun control, the government being the Conservative government. All but three of us supported that legislation. Three of our people opposed it. Two of them continue to be in the caucus and the other would have, had he decided to run and got elected.
The government of the day led by a fellow, Mulroney-that is his name. He had two people, one of whom is now the Deputy Speaker of this Chamber and the other who was the member for Calgary Northeast. What happened to them when they voted against the GST? They not only had a free vote, they got a free ride right out of their caucus the same day.
We will in the overwhelming majority of cases be voting with our parties, not because we are sheep but because we have hammered out our compromises behind closed doors.
I will get suspicious if I see a free voter voting free too often. I will say to myself: Can he not convince his colleagues of anything? Is he a lone ranger? Has he no clout in his own caucus? Does he have to come here and vote his own way all the time? Why is he not back in his caucus room convincing his own caucus of the rightness of his ways? That is what the caucus system is all about.
Yes, we will have free votes, but will it become the order of the day. I cannot see why it would. As a Canadian let alone as a politician I think it would be a fairly messy way to do business. We did not get here by our good looks. One or two of us did maybe. The people of Canada did not take us as individuals. They embraced the Liberal message in one riding. They embraced the Bloc message in another riding and the Reform message in another. Each of our parties had very specific platforms. And now for someone to stand up and say that has all gone out the window and that from now on we are going to be real free around here. Real free. Remember that mandate you got back there in so and so riding? Forget that buddy, just be free.
Some of us understand that any freedom attaches to it responsibility. If I exercise my freedom when I stand and vote for cuts in defence spending, I will be having a free vote. Just because another 176 members happen to be of the same mind on that free vote is not my problem. I will be voting because I believe in it. I will be voting because that is what my constituents told me to do. Now that is about as free as you can get. Free does not have to mean being alone. If you want me to be an isolationist I will pick some "comma" legislation some day and stand up against the government just to show that I am a free spirit. But who have I helped? How have I helped my constituents with that bit of grandstanding?
The people of Canada want us to do the right thing and if we carry this free vote thing to its conclusion, what we ought to do is what the gentleman from Beauce did. All 295 of us should go out and get elected without a party label. But Canadian people like choices now. They like to say that here is what the Liberals stand for, here is what the Bloc stands for and here is what the Tories stand for. I think we will take those. I cannot willy-nilly having gone through that process say: "Okay people of Canada, thanks now forget it because I am going to be my own man".
Finally, in my last minute or so let me deal directly with the amendment put forward by the Leader of the Opposition together with the subamendment of the leader of the third party. Both of them are well-intended I am sure. I will not read the wording because I see my time is running out. But you all know the wording. You had better because you voted on it. Both asked me, I say with candour but deference, to say that I have no interest in putting public finances on a more sound footing. That is not true. I do have an interest.
Therefore why do they ask me to vote a lie? Why do they ask everybody on this side to vote a lie on that particular issue? Surely the wording of these motions are classic examples of what is wrong with this place. That clever use of well chosen verbiage in the hope of creating one-upmanship in the hope of sucking somebody in to get him to vote for something he does not believe in. That is what is wrong with this place. Oh, that clever use of verbiage.
I was a bit disappointed that it came from the leader of the Reform party and the leader of the Bloc. That they would ask us to say that we have no interest. Mea culpa, mea culpa. I have a great interest in seeing that public finances are put on a sound footing.
Did the framers of those two amendments honestly believe for one minute, for one millisecond, that nobody on this side, not one single soul of the 177 including the crowd over there in the Siberian rump on the other side, not one of us is concerned about the state of the country's finances? Does anyone in the Reform Party believe that for a second? What an insult to 176 people.