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House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was petitions.

Topics

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

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What is the government's intention with regard to the Environmental assessment act (1992 statutes, c. 37), and what steps have been taken, since October 26, 1993, to deal with the regulations and the proclamation of this act?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Hamilton East Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, as noted in the speech from the throne, the government is committed to proclaiming the Canadian environmental assessment act as soon as possible. Further, in the red book, "Creating Opportunity-The Liberal Plan for Canada" and its accompanying backgrounder on environmental issues, a commitment was made to strengthen and enhance the act after proclamation. The government intends to keep its commitments.

The four regulations essential to the implementation of the act were published in part 1 of the Canada Gazette on September 17, 1993. The period for public comment was to expire on November 17, 1993, but, noting concerns expressed by Canadians, the government extended the comment period to December 17, 1993. The comments received have been compiled by the Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office (FEARO) and changes to the regulations based on these comments and the government's commitments are currently being prepared. These changes as well as the amendments promised will be examined by the government shortly.

The act must be proclaimed quickly in order to reduce the uncertainty associated with the application of the guidelines order now in force.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question as enumerated by the parliamentary secretary has been answered.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Shall the remaining questions stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate today on our supply motion. I will be speaking specifically to paragraph (c):

a petition which will be presented requesting the government to bring forward a bill which would make recall of members of the House of Commons a part of the law.

Parliamentary reform has been a subject of intense interest in the House for many years. Our party, in response to the views of the Canadian public, has proposed several measures and several reforms designed to restore powers to Parliament and improve the state of representative democracy.

Representative democracy is improved when citizens are both willing and able to express their views to us as their representatives. I say willing in the sense that Canadians must believe that their views will be received by us, their views will be listened to by us, and their views will be seriously considered by us.

Regrettably many Canadians do not participate in the political process. Too many have become disillusioned, alienated and cynical about the entire political process. Those who actively participate in the political process, who still believed that an aroused and informed citizenry can make a difference, should be given every encouragement, should be given every reasonable means to express their views. That is why we chose this topic today.

A citizens' petition is an ancient, traditional and sensible way for ordinary citizens to put their views before their government. We should encourage its use. One form of citizens' petition that the House can and should adopt as soon as possible is a citizens' petition for recall. It is my firm belief that recall legislation would provide voters with a greater sense of control over their representatives between elections. Recall would provide a means to counter the feelings of cynicism and alienation expressed by many Canadian voters about politicians, political parties and government.

Recall would provide a disillusioned electorate with an instrument and a public process for some sort of practical action. Recall would enhance the role of constituents between elections and hence would improve dialogue between constituents and their representatives. Both parliamentarians and their constituents would be winners. Recall legislation would improve representative democracy.

Members of Parliament should have nothing to fear from the introduction of recall legislation. Sensible provisions would be included in the legislation to prevent superfluous or mischievous use of this democratic reform. For example, a petition must be signed by a sufficiently high number of electors in a constituency to prevent mischief. Second, there would be a grace period after the general election before a recall petition would kick in. Third, a recall measure could only be used once per constituency, per term of an elected Parliament. Fourth, the recall process would be subject to strict regulation, verified by the Chief Electoral Officer, for example, procedures for verifying that all signatures are genuine and obtained through legitimate means. If that did not happen, a fairly severe fine would be in place.

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When talking about recall we need to say this is not something radical we are just thinking about doing now in Canada's Parliament. The citizens of ancient Athens had a democratic process to ostracize wayward politicians through banishment from Athens for a period of 10 years.

Think of the number of members in this place. If our constituents were displeased with us they would banish us, or shun us to use a cultural term from my area, for 10 years. That certainly would make us consider strongly what kind of representatives we were.

Some writers say this ancient process is the foundation for recall legislation we are discussing today. Recall has been a facet of the Swiss system of direct democracy for a long period of time. Fifteen U.S. states employ recall for elected state officials; 36 provide for recall of locally elected officials. No American state has ever repealed recall legislation once it was established. Recall has only been used successfully nine or ten times in that entire history. Obviously the system is not abused.

The recall mechanism utilized in Alberta in 1936 was incorporated into a public law, but it had its defects. The Alberta recall bill was mentioned earlier, but in this case the law was too easily open to abuse by opposition parties and interest groups, and we have heard lots about them today.

For example, the bill contained no provision prohibiting the purchase of signatures for a recall petition. Its first use was marred by this abuse when a group of Calgary lawyers reportedly offered the good citizens of High River up to $5 a signature to sign a recall petition against the premier. It is for that reason among many others whereby we believe very sound safeguards should be in place.

When the Alberta recall bill was repealed by the Alberta legislature, it was done by a free vote. The premier at the time, William Aberhart, voted against that repeal, as did Ernest C. Manning, who was a cabinet minister at the time. The repeal was carried by a majority of the backbenchers who considered the bill to be defective.

Some opponents of recall claim that members are elected primarily to carry out a mandate as detailed in their party's election platform and must often sacrifice the good of their constituents for the good of the whole. Recall, they claim, would encourage short term or parochial thinking to the detriment of the whole.

Reformers agree that members must consider factors solely beyond the wishes of their constituents, but stress that a member's primary duty should not be to the party but to the constituents, to represent their concerns, their needs and their interests.

Thomas E. Cronin, in his discussion of the pros and cons of recall in his book entitled Direct Democracy: The Politics of Initiative, Referendum and Recall , published by Harvard University Press, 1989, states:

Today's critics of the recall device continue to view it as an invitation to unruly, impatient action and as a potential hazard to representative government. They also say it is another media age factor that could weaken the party system. No evidence exists to support either contention.

That bears repeating. Thomas Cronin said that no evidence exists to support either contention.

Power may not always corrupt, yet it does have this tendency. Recall strikes at incumbent arrogance.

All of us in this place must pay attention to that. We must perk up our ears when we hear a sentence like that. It touches all of us because we are elected officials. Recall strikes at incumbent arrogance.

I stand here in this Chamber today talking about MP recall not as an outsider, but as someone who has been elected once, in fact re-elected once also in the general election of October 1993. I am subject to MP recall as is every other member in this House. Therefore it cannot be said this is someone who is criticizing the process from the outside.

In summary, as parliamentarians we should encourage citizens to express their views at all times and by all legitimate means. The citizens petition remains a valid and legitimate means. Its use should be respected and encouraged. The petition for recall would enable our citizens to rid themselves of those who violate their trust. It would encourage members to be more responsive to the views of their constituents and enhance the role of ordinary parliamentarians. It would promote representative democracy in this nation.

Let me conclude with a couple of comments from the Globe and Mail , February 19, 1994. Kenneth Whyte in his article entitled The West'' says that the real problem with the government's response to all the questions we have asked in the last several weeks about representative democracy, member of Parliament recall, whether the government would allow a referendum on the issue of physician assisted suicide, is that it demonstrates the government has not a clue about what it is dealing with. He says that the issues of referenda and recall are of enormous symbolic importance. Nothing could be more true. He went on to say:The bottom line is that traditional political institutions will either open themselves to greater public participation or lose still more credibility''.

Mr. Speaker, I lay it before you that MP recall is something we will need before the life of this Parliament is out.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Broadview—Greenwood Ontario

Liberal

Dennis Mills LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I begin by acknowledging the member as someone who has always been a strong advocate of

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reform and works very aggressively in this House and not just during the last Parliament.

Let me be specific. Does the hon. member not believe when a member of Parliament is accused of something not suitable for this House that he or she should be subject to due process? What criteria would the hon. member use to put the recall process into motion?

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Broadview-Greenwood. We have agreed on many things and I suspect on this issue probably we are not totally in disagreement.

We had a chat earlier about the whole idea of what due process is. If we were to look at a particular example-we would be naive if we did not address it-there is a situation in front of us in which we are looking at a member's credentials.

When talking about the due process of law, I am all in favour of that. I am sure both sides of this House are. The question would be what I asked my hon. friend this morning. I will ask him again. I know he cannot respond but I am sure many others will talk about this as the day goes on.

Why was due process not followed initially in the case of the member for Markham-Whitchurch-Stouffville? If this had gone through due process we would have seen that. If the issue of credentials was the only thing in question perhaps it would have been short circuited had the Prime Minister gone through due process by looking at the credentials and saying he would hold off on a decision until he had reviewed the situation.

It is a pretty big step to throw someone out of caucus. We witnessed it in the last Parliament. We have witnessed it here again.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

He resigned.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Let us make sure that due process is followed on both sides of the issue and not just from one.

In terms of the criteria for the process of recall, we would need 50 per cent plus one of the number of voters who cast their ballots in the last election and there would be a waiting time, a period of grace as mentioned in my Bill C-210. It talks about a waiting period of 18 months. I will add an amendment which says that unless blatant misrepresentation has happened it could be triggered earlier. It would only happen once in the life of a Parliament so we would not be able to gang up on people over and over again.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to move the debate away from individuals and into the theoretical if I may do so. I am a historian by avocation. One of the things I have observed in my reading is that dictatorships as in the cases of Hitler and Mussolini are always founded in support from the people, usually massive support. Once dictatorships have captured the imagination of the people that tremendous support is used to implement things that are contrary to democracy.

When it comes to something like this petition I see a danger when there is a very popular government. Would the hon. member for Beaver River be afraid that a government could take advantage of its popularity, get a petition and get rid of the dissenters thereby getting rid of the very people we would want to have in a democracy.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I must confess I am not a historian. It seems to me that my entire speech was theoretical and it was only in response to a question from the hon. member for Broadview-Greenwood that we got into any specifics.

Maybe it is a weakness in this Parliament in always talking about things theoretically, who knows. Let us be very clear about this danger to which the hon. member refers. If there is such a thing as a popular government, certainly maybe in the first 100 days it might be popular until it starts making demands on the public purse for instance. That is obviously what hurts people the most.

Let us look at this specifically. The referendum a year ago indicated the specific mood of the people. They want power in their hands. I was asked if I see a danger in that. No, I do not. I do not think there is any danger whatsoever in being able to relinquish power, saying that this is what we think is important but we turn it over to the common sense of the people right across the country. The only thing that would be dangerous would be not to do that.

I am always asked what the cost would be to check names and signatures on recall. I fire back the rhetorical question what is the cost if we do not do it? We see what is happening in this country from sea to sea. The people think their elected representatives are floating away.

I do believe there is a real danger and a real cost of not instituting these essential parliamentary reforms which should be instituted in the life of this Parliament.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to commend the hon. member for Beaver River on her insights in terms of recall, but we do come back to this issue again and again.

Earlier the hon. member's colleagues made reference to the citings of the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke. The suggestion was that Edmund Burke lost his election after he made the famous statements about judgment versus rubber stamp.

That is what members are elected to do. In my riding over 45,000 people elected me. I was a candidate who wished to stand on the principle of judgment, that my best principles and my

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best ideas are put forward and to the extent possible I am able to represent majority as well as minority interests.

Since the hon. member has spent a considerable amount of time on this issue, given that Edmund Burke was never defeated, given that two members of her caucus have suggested that Mr. Burke was defeated, and that he ran consecutively from 1765 until 1794 for all ridings of Wendover, Bristol, Malton-Yorkshire in that period of time would she not agree that the system proposed under recall is one that smacks-

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Beaver River.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Thank you again, Mr. Speaker. To my friend from Ontario, I appreciate his comments but I think we are just about out of time.

Edmund Burke probably has been mentioned more today than, who knows, when he was in the House. Maybe he was in for a long period of time. We are looking at many years ago in England. Certainly with the advent of television if nothing else, politics now goes into people's homes and they need to talk about it.

Although I am sure Edmund Burke was a wonderful fellow, he believed firmly in the mandate theory: You have given me a mandate; I have come to serve you. We are not just mandated or delegated. We need a fine balance saying: "If in my judgment this carries the weight of the people, yes I will give my judgment, but if in fact there could be a clear consensus that my constituents are instructing me in a particular way I must do that or I will go the road of Edmund Burke".

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate this afternoon in the debate on an opposition motion. The opposition, at least the third party in this Parliament, starts off with the premise that Parliament, as an institution, is broken. Parliament is not broken.

Yes, the previous government lost the trust of the Canadian people. Yes, it was defeated because it lost that trust. However, that is not to say the institution itself is wrong. I say that to both parties across the way. I see that in their speeches, in their comments and elsewhere.

When I hear from members of the Reform Party that Parliament as an institution needs to be turned completely upside down and changed because it does not work, I say they are wrong. When members of the Bloc Quebecois say that they think the country should separate because people disliked the previous government, I say they too are wrong. What was wrong was not Parliament. What was wrong was not this great institution. What was wrong was the public office holders of the last Parliament and that is not the same. It is high time we started to think on those terms.

I read this motion today. Listen to it, Mr. Speaker, you who are so knowledgeable in all our rules. It states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of amending the Standing Orders-

Whoever heard of anything so preposterous. The government does not have standing orders, the House has standing orders. I say to my colleagues across the way, many of whom have not been members very long, surely they could learn that the rules of the House are the rules of the House and not the rules of the government. Changing the rules is not done by the government. If the government decided to change the rules arbitrarily they would be the first to criticize.

The standing orders of this House are amended by and on the advice of a parliamentary committee which usually presents a unanimous report to the House. This committee report is tabled in the House and adopted by the House and then the rules of procedure are changed.

Some members will remember in the last Parliament when the then government took a report from a standing committee on amending the rules and chose to adopt only some of the rule changes. It was condemned by everyone, not because it had changed rules unilaterally but because it had not changed all of the rules at once as recommended in the unanimous report. It had upset the balance which is so vital to ensuring that the government can govern and that the opposition can hold the government to account. That was seen as wrong.

The member across the way and her colleagues are proposing that the government on its own change the standing orders of the House. With due respect, it is absurd. It is completely absurd that a government would try to do that.

The member wants the government, in changing the rules unilaterally, perhaps even against the wishes of the oppositions, to produce some sort of a formula to debate and to vote on petitions.

I bring members' attention to today's Order Paper of the House of Commons. I highly recommend it to members of Parliament. It is a very useful document. It tells how this place works.

Like many other members, I have Motion M-218 on today's Order Paper.

I can see for instance that the hon. member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie has one, and so does the hon. member for Anjou--

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Rivière-des-Prairies. It is unusual that not one member from the Reform Party has a motion on the Order Paper of the House. None, not one member from the Reform Party.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

An hon. member

It is impossible.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Yes, yes, it is true. None of them does.

Does the member realize that she and her colleagues can take the contents of a petition and put it up for debate through this mechanism? It is at page IV of the Order Paper. The process already exists. We can put a motion on any subject and ask that it be debated in the House, including the subject of a petition.

I have put a motion on the Order Paper that reads:

That this House affirm its support for Section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada which forbids the counselling, procuring, aiding, or abetting of a person to commit suicide-

I do not think we should change that provision. The member and I can disagree on that point when we can debate it. We can debate whether the point originated in a petition or elsewhere and we will vote on it in the House. That provision exists right now pursuant to our rules.

Why are we offered this suggestion today? We already have the means to do it.

The hon. member tells us that she wants the Young Offenders Act changed, but did she put a bill on the Order Paper asking for such a change? As you know, all the members of this House can put forward private members' bills, bills which will then be debated and voted on by this House. Is there a need to create some new mechanism? Not at all. Mechanisms already exist and all these tools are already available to this House.

No, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps our rules need to be changed and modified. I sit on the committee that deals with such matters, along with my colleague from Kingston and the Island, our colleague across the way and others. Many of them have done good work. However, some people are sucking and blowing at the same time.

On Friday we proposed to change the prayer that we say in this House. Who was the first to complain? A member of the Reform Party said we should not touch it. It was a unanimous report of the committee voted on by the House. Even that was seen as being inappropriate even though it had the consent of virtually everyone.

When members across the way talk about changing our institution, we agree. We have made it part of our red book. However, we want those changes to occur based on the consent of members of the House for the betterment of this institution, not just in a way to sell the doctrine to the people back in the riding that some have come here to Ottawa to turn this place upside down.

The right to petition Parliament that has been talked about today existed in British parliamentary democracy since 1669. It has been a very important tool. I have used it. I have tabled petitions in this House. On Thursday I will be tabling 100,000 signatures on petitions asking for the banning the importation of the serial killer board game.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

What did I do? I put a bill on the Order Paper asking to do just that, Bill C-203 if members will read their Order Paper again. Bill C-203 proposes to ban the importation of that product by modifying the Criminal Code. Those 150,000 signatures I will be tabling plus the 50,000 I have tabled already are a testimony to the kind of support that initiative has.

Therefore, I can ask my colleagues to vote on this. I will be using the mechanisms of petition to demonstrate that which I am proposing is worth while.

What is the motion we are debating today supposed to do? It is supposed to give us an opportunity to vote on such things as the Young Offenders Act. That act requires no royal recommendation, so any private member can have a bill to change it. Any member can introduce a private member's motion to deal with a petition. Finally, on the issue of the serial killer cards, I have a parallel initiative right now on the Order Paper of this House.

So, as you can see Mr. Speaker, it is not all to present motions because someone who perhaps was not too familiar with the procedure of this House could be led to believe that Parliament presently has none of the tools mentioned in this particular motion, while in fact it is quite the contrary. All these tools that the hon. member form the Reform Party for Edmonton Southwest is requesting are already available to the House. All of them without any exception already exist as described in his motion.

Today the member for Beaver River introduced something new. She said: we should have recall mechanisms. That has nothing to do with this motion of course, although I profoundly disagree with it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hate to be rude and interrupt, but our motion, first of all if it had been out of order, as this member has stated, would have been ruled out of order and inappropriate by the Table.

Second, the hon. member has now had a few seconds to read it, my speech was entirely on paragraph (c) in the motion.

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SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member has made her point. I think we all appreciate that is a matter of debate rather than a point of order.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rest my case about people learning about the rules of this place. When members purport to claim a point of order because they disagree with the content of the speech of another member it is not a point of order. In most cases-