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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

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3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, rather than trying to rub it into somebody, might get on with debate rather than go back to the point of order.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by the member across the way, the motion today proposes to give to the House the possibility of voting on petitions. All of that too exists now.

I say to the hon. member, read Beauchesne, read the standing orders, read the Order Paper and then members who propose initiatives like this will know that those tools exist already.

Finally, it is wrong for us to pretend in a motion or otherwise that the standing orders of the House are the standing orders of the government. That is wrong. The standing orders of the House belong to the House.

I sat in opposition for a very long time and defended the privileges of this House on numerous occasions. When it was the government trying to run roughshod over the rights of MPs never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that an opposition member would be asking for those things that normally government members do not even dare to ask.

Members of the House should vote against this motion. They should soundly defeat a motion that pretends that the standing orders of the House are the orders of the government and not the standing orders of Parliament. Members should vote to change the rules pursuant to reports from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. A member of the Reform Party sits on that committee.

We have just started our work. We have done good work as a committee.

If a report from such a committee proposes to change the rules of the House and the report of the committee is not even unanimous, we will see, mark my words, that the same members who are now proposing that the government change the standing orders would rise in their seats in defiance if the government even tried to do that with all members of the committee except one who was perhaps dissident on a report.

That is the irony of what we see today.

The motion before us today should not be adopted.

I conclude by reiterating that it is not the same thing, and all the members of this House should be aware of the difference, to say that the previous government had lost the confidence of the Canadian people as to say that Parliament, as an institution, does not work.

This is one of the greatest freedoms that we have, to have an institution like this which has evolved from time immemorial, from the days prior to the Norman invasion of Britain. As my colleague the historian will know, there was even a form of representative institution in the days of the Witan, prior to the Norman invasion of Britain. This institution has evolved for perhaps 1,500 years.

Just like when I sat across the way, as I now sit in government I want the changes to the rules to be changes that are acceptable to the House, to make us respond better to the wishes of our constituents, and to make us as well better equipped to make wise and sound decisions for those who have sent us here to speak on their behalf.

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3:45 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make this short. We are not demanding that the government change the standing orders. If the motion is read carefully, I will state that the government should consider the advisability; in other words, seek unanimous consent throughout the House if this is something wise.

Again I say, not on a point of order but as a comment, that if this were out of order it would have been ruled out of order by the table.

Second, my hon. friend said in concluding his remarks that he encourages his colleagues to vote against this. Is he aware that this is a non-votable motion, as it says so clearly at the bottom line?

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am perfectly aware of the fact that no vote was sought, although the opposition has the right to seek votes on any opposition motion. Such a vote would be a vote of confidence.

Second, it is not a matter of whether the motion itself is out of order. Of course it is not out of order. As a matter of fact, placing the words "consider the advisability" in any motion makes it virtually always in order. As one who has proposed a number of motions when I sat across the way, whenever in doubt include the words "consider the advisability" and one will be pretty well always safe, as the Speaker will know.

By including words like that it is obviously not out of order. That does not mean that the motion is worthy of support or that its contents are appropriate or that they are those which should be adopted by the government or by the House or anyone else.

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3:45 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member started his speech by stating that the Reform Party thinks Parliament is broken. I would just like to inform him that we do not really think it is broken, we just think it needs a little refurbishing.

We want more openness in this Parliament and we want more opportunity to allow the people of Canada in this information age to have more input into this House and to be able to see that we are actively debating issues that are of importance to them.

The hon. member knows that the rules are changed by the government, in effect, because it has the voting power in this House. The standing order will be changed only with the approval of the government. The member also knows that motions on the Order Paper are extremely unlikely, by sheer volume, to ever come up for debate.

The hon. member consistently refuses to agree to a new system that would bring better representation for his constituents. I would like to ask the member why he is afraid to debate petitions in this House in front of television cameras. Is he afraid that his constituents might see that he does not represent them properly in this House?

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3:45 p.m.

An hon. member

What was your last majority, Don?

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague reminds me that the electors of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell were kind enough to send me here with a substantial majority. We are equal as members, whether elected by one vote or two votes or whether the majority was larger, as I was fortunate enough to have received in the last election. Once we are here we are all equal and I recognize that.

I made the case to the House and to the member that there exists a procedure right now through which the content of any petition can become votable through a motion. There is not one motion on the Order Paper in the name of any Reform Party MP. I have a copy of the Order Paper in front of me. It has six motions by the member for Richelieu who is a Bloc Quebecois member, one from the member for Winnipeg North, one from your humble servant from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, two from the member for Kamloops, one from the member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie, one from the member for Saskatoon-Clark's Crossing, and one from the member for Anjou-Rivière-des-Prairies. None of those ridings is represented by the Reform Party.

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3:50 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I listened with great intent to the member opposite and I understand that the Liberals during the last campaign as shown in the red book were very eager to turn around this misconception or mistrust that the Canadian people have in government./

They included things which I referred to earlier today regarding the fact that people are irritated with governments that do not consult them.

My question is if the member is so opposed to the proposals we are putting forward in terms of referendum, recall, and today we are talking about the question of petitions, what does he propose as an alternative to open up government to the Canadian people as they seem to be demanding and as the red book acknowledges?

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hate to put it this way but I am going to repeat this slowly.

The motion today asked the government to change the rule of the House-this is the first thing that is wrong with it-in order for us to have a vote on petitions. There is already such a mechanism and many members have availed themselves of the privilege of putting motions before the House-everyone except Reform Party MPs.

If they need any help with drafting those motions I will gladly go across and give them a hand.

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3:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think the time has expired. I would hope that members would understand that the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell and I were in the last House and, with respect, the kind of comment he just made a moment ago is one reason we got into trouble in the last House.

I hope that members would avoid that sort of comment in the future.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, the first provision of the standing orders of the House of Commons that we should deplore is of course the one that allows a political party to table around two o'clock on Friday afternoon a motion to be debated the following Monday morning.

Standing Order 43, which allows such little notice, should be the subject of today's debate because it shows the weakness when some groups in Parliament are not guided by a sense of fair play. But let that pass. This motion gives us an opportunity to dwell on our role as members of Parliament. We do not intend to deal with specific cases that were presented as examples in support of the motion today.

What I want to do today is to deal with the nature of a petition, its meaning, the origin of such a form of representation to Parliament and the attitude we should have toward such means of communication which more often than not show that considerable effort was made to reach us as elected members.

When the parliamentary system began in Canada with the Constitution Act, 1791, citizens' groups clearly understood that they could express their grievances and demands by appending their signatures to a joint declaration. Petitions are an integral part of the political system, whereas the actions of members and

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their respective parties are not influenced either by the electronic media or by laws governing lobbyists.

In the purest sense, a petition is a mechanism employed by a group of citizens who agree on a problem and on how it should be resolved. Quite often, sound ideas translate into co-operative efforts. In many cases, petitions have reflected a good deal of common sense and quite aside from broad expert analyses, they have often brought to light alternatives that legislative assemblies had not thought of or had not dared contemplate.

We must, however, consider the flip side of this issue. We are not fools and each one of us has seen petitions supported by organizations with significant resources, and capable therefore of producing a disproportionate number of petitions, more than could be processed.

In today's highly technological, computerized and mediatized society, it is more important than ever to distinguish public interest from personal interest, and actions taken in good faith from those taken with a personal goal in mind. The whole issue of petitions opens the door to a much broader issue, namely that of representations made to those who wield legislative power.

Last week, a documentary called "Les chemins de l'influence" was shown on Radio-Canada's Le Point . This program clearly showed how lobbyists are organized and how they go about influencing decision-makers. When compared to such specialized lobbying techniques, petitions come across as the poor relation, to say the least. Yet, lobbyists are never directly quoted in the House of Commons, even though we know full well what kind of influence they have on those in power. The program I just mentioned gave the example of the pharmaceutical industry which succeeded in securing commitments from the Mulroney government and from the Minister of National Health and Welfare, Benoît Bouchard, by dangling before their eyes the promise of job spinoffs and major investments.

Would a petition have been as effective in this instance? Would it have produced the hoped-for results? Certainly not! Why then do people persist in using petitions to make requests of the government? No doubt they do so for two reasons. First, for lack of an alternative, because this is the only means available to them to get the government's attention. Then, since it is probably preferable, from a moral standpoint, to act openly through a very public request instead of going through the corridors of power.

A petition, however visible, remains in current practice something that is merely tabled. Since the opening of this Parliament, 84 petitions have been presented in this House, but there has not been a single response yet. Everything is there. The credibility of this provision in the Standing Orders depends in large part on the response provided. Standing Order 36(8) now gives the government 45 calendar days to examine a petition and respond to it. The government should not evade this obligation.

Any member has the right to table a petition. This act of tabling, which is not currently open to debate on the form or content of the petition, enables the member to freely fulfil his or her responsibilities as a representative of the people without having to endorse the petitioners' claims. It would be against my principles to table a petition without endorsing it, but the Standing Orders give some flexibility to members whose top priority is to speak for the people they represent.

Beyond the tabling as such, the possibility of debating and voting on petitions, as suggested by the Reform Party's motion, creates many difficulties. First, the main difficulty would be to decide whether we should debate all petitions. If yes, it would probably be by grouping them, but if some groupings are obvious, depending on the form and origin of the petition, others are not so obvious.

On the other hand, if we wanted to sort or select petitions to be debated and disposed of, what criteria should be used? Should there be a random draw, as provided for in Standing Order 87 regarding private members' business? Should the number of signatures be a factor? What about the purpose of the petitions? Whatever the method favoured, it is clear in my opinion that it would be criticized as a form of discrimination.

Most important today's motion would open the door to a new practice that would put into question our role as defenders of the common interests. Many governments have been accused of governing by polls. This criticism could be extended to any government or Parliament governing by petitions.

The members of this House and the political parties to which they belong have all campaigned by openly promoting various policies and solutions to solve our modern problems. Mr. Speaker, these members have been elected and their first obligation now is to do everything they can to respect their commitments.

How would they always be able to reconcile the commitments they made to get elected with the petitions giving them directions on what to do and even how to vote? If this were possible, what would prevail in case of a divergence of views? Would it be the party line? Would it be the personal beliefs of the member? Would it be the commitments made during the election campaign? Would it be the petitions, and if so based on what: their content, their volume or their origin?

We must make a distinction between our role and that which innumerable sources want us to take on. Being the elected representative of a constituency, as well as a member of a parliamentary group sharing the same political views and a member of the first deliberative assembly of the country, each

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member of Parliament must face all kinds of representations and limitations.

It would be a useless constraint to add to the already existing resources in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and allow debates on petitions. There are numerous other possibilities to review issues, including those resulting from the tabling of petitions. Indeed, petitions are sometimes grouped together in a motion, then in a bill which is reviewed by a committee before finally being passed by the House. This avenue exists, regardless of all its limitations.

In conclusion, I would appreciate it if the sponsors of the motion could answer our questions and propose some solutions to the problems which I underlined.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Châteauguay on his very thoughtful comments. I share many of them. I want to share some of my concerns with him and get his response. One of my problems with the petition concept is the thought that the people who are signing the petition may be acting on the basis of bad information.

We are hearing from the Reform Party about a petition being used as a means to recall a member. My concern is about a situation in wich the information being supplied to the people is incomplete and the people who are going to sign the petition are reading it in their local media. They may be signing a petition that is calling for recall when they do not have the full story.

I will take that analogy further with due respect to Bloc members. I hope they will not feel it is partisan when I say as a former journalist I have always been concerned the information French speaking Quebecers are receiving has been coloured by French speaking media.

In that context, when a regional group is restricted in the type of information it is receiving I would question, if Quebecers were undertaking a petition of similar import to recall, whether the information they were receiving was based on only one viewpoint and whether the petition, no matter how it came out, would be valid.

I will extend that one step further and suggest that the same flaw exists in a referendum. If people who are to vote on a subject of great import like sovereignty association, the separation of the country or any kind of referendum for that matter or a referendum such that the Reform would put forward, are receiving information with only one slant, would the hon. member for Châteauguay tell me whether he feels a referendum or a petition under such circumstances would be legitimate?

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, no, but I appreciate the hon. member's question. To me, a referendum and a petition are two entirely different things. We should realize that a petition more often involves a small group of constituents, unlike a referendum. For instance, the referendum on Charlottetown involved the whole country, not just a small group. At the time, millions and millions of dollars were spent, and if these people did not get the yes they wanted, it was not because people were not informed. It was simply because an attempt was made to impose a solution people did not want.

To me, there is quite a difference between a petition and a referendum, but I am afraid pressure groups are using petitions to force the government to consider their real issues, their real demands.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I say to the hon. member for Châteauguay that my analogy is a petition and a regional referendum such as there might be in Quebec where one group of people is being asked to decide on one specific issue.

I am not trying to prejudge that vote or what Quebecers should do in that instance. The nature of the question is how does the hon. member feel if the people coming to that vote, be it a regional petition or a regional referendum, have very narrow and restricted sources of information and are not getting the full story?

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

No, Mr. Speaker, I do not think so. I do not think people were poorly informed, because there was certainly no lack of resources during the referendum. In fact, people were so well informed that in places where there was no money, people voted no just the same. I think there is a tremendous difference. A petition is a request. Constituents ask for something, and a petition is a way to get that request to the government. In a referendum people make a decision, and the majority decides.

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

I would like to know the position of the hon. member for Châteauguay on Quebec's referendum legislation. Would he agree that this legislation, which provides for creating umbrella committees during referendums, for the yes side and the no side, and gives the same amount of money to both and prohibits corporations, unions, and other corporate entities from contributing to the campaign funds of the yes committee or the no committee, is, in a democratic society, the most sensible and practical approach we have in Quebec for settling a matter that concerns the entire population?

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

I think the hon. member is absolutely right. And I think that once again, Quebec, as it has done in so many other areas, has led the way in seeking truly democratic solutions.

I remember the last referendum on the Charlottetown accord, where money was being spent left, right and centre. If only, and I think the hon. member answered the question I was asked earlier, if only this policy had existed across Canada instead of letting people be inundated with all this advertising, because sometimes, getting too much information is just as bad as not getting enough. I think this policy ensures that people really get the information they need, and I am convinced this will get the desired result in Quebec.

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4:10 p.m.

Cape Breton—The Sydneys Nova Scotia

Liberal

Russell MacLellan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, on reading this motion I have some difficulty with it, quite frankly. It seems we are trying to structure members of Parliament to the extent that they do not have the leeway to do the job they must do.

Petitions are a very important part of the democratic procedure. There is no question about it. They are the voice of the people through their members of Parliament. They are asking members of Parliament to put a particular point across. Through the petition they are stating how they want this advocacy in Parliament to take place.

That is fine and that is as it should be. There is time allotted in the daily procedure of the House of Commons to put forward petitions. The petitions are accepted by the House of Commons and a reply is sent to the petitioners.

If we take that further and say that instead of doing that or in addition to doing that we should take the subject matter of each petition and debate it in each session, we are in effect structuring the actual work of the House of Commons. We are dictating what the House of Commons determines as the most important subject matter with which it will deal.

That is not the actual form of democracy that most people in the country want to see in the Chamber. They want to see their concerns put forward. They are instructing members of Parliament to deal with their concerns. Through petitions they are saying they want these matters brought before the House of Commons as they are under the proper procedure dealing with petitions at the present time.

If we start getting into the question of debating each subject matter, how do we determine what subject matter we are going to debate? If we are debating all subject matters how long do we debate each point? How long do we give to each question? If we are saying we are going to choose certain areas of subject matter to debate which ones do we choose? Certainly we can pick private members' bills that are coming before the House, but those bills are put forward by individual members of Parliament. Here we are talking about the people of Canada giving us feedback on their concerns. How can we say that some motions or some subject matter will be debated and others will not?

I do not think this is going to work. I say to the people of Canada, through your petitions your concerns are reaching all members of the House of Commons. I also want to say there has been very good work on behalf of Canadians in getting these petitions together. A tremendous amount of work has been done in bringing these concerns to the House of Commons.

I want to deal with the point made by the member for Edmonton Southwest with respect to serial killer cards. He says that the subject matter of the petition prohibiting the importation, distribution, sale and manufacture of serial killer cards is an example of such petitions.

We have heard a good deal on this subject. There have been many petitions on this subject. I am certain the Department of Justice is studying this area very carefully in the hope of bringing forward some legislation to deal with this. However, this is not an easy subject because of the charter representation section 2 of the charter deals with freedom of speech and this is a question here. We must however deal with the concerns with respect to the importation, distribution, sale and manufacture of such materials and that is being examined now. It is offensive to think people are making money from that sort of material.

We are aware of petitions such as the ones of Mrs. Debbie Mahaffy. She was able to get together 500,000 signatures on a petition. Léna Cléroux of Rockland, Ontario presented a petition with 14,000 signatures. The hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell who spoke just a few minutes ago collected 50,000 signatures on a petition to ban serial killer board games. He has introduced a private member's bill on this subject.

The matter is being dealt with. The petitions have worked. The advocacy of the citizens of this country to their members of Parliament has worked. If this subject matter is debated again, what are we going to achieve? The government knows this is a concern. All members of the House of Commons know it is a concern. What is needed now is to ask questions from time to time during question period and before the Standing Committee on Justice as to how this matter is proceeding and how the Minister of Justice and the government are dealing with it. That is how we must deal with it.

Another matter is the Young Offenders Act. There are concerns about the Young Offenders Act. The Liberal Party recognized that during the election campaign and mentioned it in the red book. It was given a prominent place in our position paper on justice released on April 22, 1993 which indicated that changes are needed to the Young Offenders Act, that there have to be tougher sentences for violent crime and that we have to recog-

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nize that there were violent offences with which we had to deal more strongly. We have to look into that whole question.

The Minister of Justice has stated he will be dealing with the recommendations of the red book and of the position paper. As a second part he has stated that the whole subject of the Young Offenders Act will be studied carefully with the full intention of bringing forward a more comprehensive bill before the House to deal with the concerns.

Once again the concerns of the Canadians through their petitions and through their members of Parliament have been brought to the attention of the government, regardless of whether it is this government or the former one. The subject matter is being studied.

What remains is the government's determination to act upon the information and the concerns brought forward by the people of Canada. The government is doing just that. It is doing it very quickly and intensively. This is a serious question as are the serial killer cards. These two problems must be dealt with and the government is dealing with them.

There are other concerns which are not mentioned in the motion. What do we do with these? Certainly the third one is one which the member's party has taken a great interest in. That is the recall of members of Parliament. Certainly there are going to be petitions on this. There are petitions on a great many subjects, but how do we deal with those? How do we deal with a government that is mindful of that concern?

Members of the Reform Party have stated they want the capacity to be able to recall members of Parliament. The government has said it does not think that is advisable. Does anyone think that if we were to debate this question that the answer would be any different because it was the subject matter of a petition?

What has happened is that through petitions, through the advocacy of the Reform Party questions, this matter has been transposed to the consideration of the government, just as with the other two cases. However, it is different from the cases of serial board games and serial killer cards and amendments to the Young Offenders Act. The government takes those issues very seriously and recognizes the concerns of Canadians. It is going to deal with those two issues, but on the third issue the government has said no. That is it, no. The fact of the matter is that the consideration has been given.

This House has to be able to deal with the concerns of Canadians who are not sending in petitions. We have to be able to look to what we as members of Parliament envision this country is going to need and the urgent matters which come up. We must also be able to anticipate how we as members of Parliament can make this a better country in the days ahead.

We have to have the freedom to bring forward bills and concerns which this country must have addressed. These concerns are brought forward in committees represented by all parties of the House giving them due consideration. Certainly the government has the majority to be able to finally determine what is to be brought forward and this is the way it should be. There has to be a mechanism to break a deadlock as far as this is concerned. This is why it is the government and why it was elected to govern.

I want all members to know that the concerns of Canadians are being addressed by this House. Three of the concerns which the hon. member has mentioned are being dealt with. One has already been dealt with and two are being given very important consideration.

We have a tremendous concern about the country's financial situation. With the deficit as it presently stands and the debt as it is, are we to debate that issue with equal time along with all the other subject matter because it is the subject of a petition? It takes away the scope of government and members of this House to determine what needs the most attention at any particular time.

People elect members of Parliament to do the job. If we are going to say as some members evidently are that the people do not trust their members of Parliament to make the right decisions and therefore they are going to shackle them any way they possibly can to follow a narrow structured course then we are only compounding the problem.

The problem may be that members of Parliament and politicians are not as highly thought of as we in this House and those in other legislative bodies would like. The fact of the matter is it is up to us to change that and only through our actions can we change that. If we do not the results will be derogatory for those who do not convince the electorate that we want to change it and that we are actually moving to change it.

It really comes down to members of Parliament acting in the interests of Canadians, acting as they see fit, as they have heard their constituents telling them they should act. Members of Parliament are the voice of the people. That voice must remain with members of Parliament to do as they see fit.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on a very fine intervention in this debate on the opposition motion. His constituents would be very proud of the way he spoke. His speech was presented in a very informed and logical fashion. That is part of what Canadians are looking for in their members. It has to do with appearance and optics.

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One of the last points the member raised really goes to the heart of the issue. The hon. member said that members of Parliament should be representing the interests of Canadians. The member said Canadians. He did not say members of his own constituency. This is a very important point because we come here as members of Parliament to reflect the best interests of our constituents but in the context of Canada as a whole and of all Canadians. Some very important regional and local differences must be balances.

Thinking of the election campaign, there were 30,000 homes in my riding to be visited. I could not possibly get to all of them. There were over 67,000 voters. How could I possibly presume I would get to know them all and get to know exactly what they were thinking on every issue and be able to come here and represent that interest? I have no mechanism other than using my best efforts and presenting and availing myself to use my best judgment. That is what the Prime Minister has been saying.

I thank the member for raising the issue that we are here to represent Canadians. It is an important distinction which the opposition motion has not taken into account.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Russell MacLellan Liberal Cape Breton—The Sydneys, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments. It is significant that we as members of Parliament represent constituents. We are the voice of the constituents in our particular ridings. We cannot assume that anyone else is going to speak for them because we are the people they have chosen.

While there are individual concerns, Canadians from coast to coast to coast realize their individual concerns must blend with the concerns of all Canadians. The number of constituencies really develops and relates to a larger whole which is the country itself. The strength of Canada is the people of Canada acting together.

There are individual concerns and national concerns. By looking at each member for whom they have voted in this light, the people have chosen the members they feel will represent these concerns nationally and locally. The idea, of course, is when we get here we should honour the commitment and honour the reasons constituents have voted for us. We should do as they had assumed we would do and not fall back into a position of disinterest or cronyism, and continue to relate as we stated in the campaign when we looked for their votes.

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4:30 p.m.

St. Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I too want to thank my colleague for reminding us all that we are here not only for our constituents but for all Canadians.

In a previous presentation some reference was made to the fact that had the party which proposed this particular debate known of the mechanisms existing so certain issues could be brought forward, that they could represent constituents fairly, perhaps it would not have been done. It had crossed my mind as well because of the references to serial killer cards, to the Young Offenders Act, to the whole notion of recall, that the particular party may be trying to use this to its political advantage.

We know these are issues that concern Canadians. We have heard petitions on each of those issues and many more. I wonder if my colleague, who has been in the House for a number of years and who has a reputation for fairness, would care to comment on what the motivation might have been. I would be very much interested in his insights.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Russell MacLellan Liberal Cape Breton—The Sydneys, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think this is an attempt to structure members of Parliament to the extent that there will remain a very narrow scope with which we can use our objectivity and our determination as to what we should do in this House of Commons.

What bothers me about this motion is the cynicism, that members of Parliament are not capable of determining how they should work to govern the people of Canada. The more structure in what we do, the less we are going to deviate from what they feel the people of Canada want.

What the people of Canada want is good representation, members of Parliament acting on behalf of Canadians, whether it be in their local interests or their national interests, but being objective and fair and dealing in a straightforward manner with their concerns.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gilbert Fillion Bloc Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must first thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice for his speech. He dealt in particular with the priority of petitions to be debated in the House, but I notice that all the motions, and the three examples given by the Reform Party, could become bills or motions discussed here in the House.

I would like the parliamentary secretary to add a little to what the previous speaker said when my colleague was questioned about referendums and petitions. I would like to know either his view as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice or the distinction he makes between referendums and petitions.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Russell MacLellan Liberal Cape Breton—The Sydneys, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is a good question, because those are two ways to obtain information from Canadians. A petition is a document provided by Canadians.

It is a document we receive from the people of Canada stating their concerns. A referendum is a document in which we say we are aware of a concern on a particular question and we are going to the people of Canada to tell us how they feel. The petition tells us that the people are concerned and they want us to know they

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are concerned. The referendum says that they are concerned. We know of their concern. Do they think this is going to be suitable?

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member who just spoke indicated he feels there is no need to change to the way we presently handle petitions.

I get that message quite strongly. I wish he would confirm if it is correct. Then I would ask simply for his response to this. First of all I do not think those of us on this side are doing this for political gain. We really do want to provide the people of Canada the kind of government they are telling us they want. They want a representative, a member of Parliament who listens, hears and acts on what it hears.

The perception is that these petitions sort of hit a wall. My question is this. Should we abandon the ability of citizens to give us petitions since we can find out by other means what it is they are thinking if we are not going to use the petition method directly in making our decisions in this House.