Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Parliament. The committee on parliamentary reform has put Motion No. 6 before the House. I wish to do a particular thing here, that is to reconcile the responsibility of a member of Parliament as a representative and the technological means that currently exist that would better facilitate the overall operation of this place.
I particularly wish to applaud the motion currently before the House to amend the standing orders. I suggest that these proposed changes are really but a tiny step forward. Given the task before us, now is the time to take not a tiny step but a big step forward. Now is the time to determine what aspects of the old way of doing politics should be kept as a tradition and what things should be changed so that we can improve and represent our constituents better in this place.
I am not talking about some kind of fantastical movie script. I believe it is time to leave the "Jurassic Park" era of governing without worrying about offending the old guard of "The Firm". We have surpassed the technological "Age of Innocence". As those who govern this land we want to improve our standards and efficiency of governing. To do that we must move forward at a pace similar to those we seek to serve.
As a member of Parliament I have a number of roles as does every member in this House. These include at least three areas: first as a representative, second as a legislator and finally as a source of legitimization. Let us examine each of these in turn.
Let us consider the words of the chairman and chief executive officer of Canada's largest chartered bank who described the new frontier before us as a multimedia universe of converging services ultimately coming into the home through a single carrier, smart phones, smart TVs, smart computers, smart VCRs, smart faxes and smart cards that let us pay bills, transfer money, make investments, play games, show pictures, selected products and services, take college courses and maybe even vote. Let me repeat those last words "maybe even vote". Electronic voting is one element which would greatly improve a member's ability to perform the duties of representation, legislation and legitimization.
Consider first the area of representation. Being the representative of Okanagan Centre incorporates three dimensions, mandate, proxy and trusteeship. The mandate function is determined by my political party whose principles and policies I support. By proxy I am bound to represent, to the degree that they can be determined, the wishes of the constituents in my area. In an instance in which that cannot be determined it is my responsibility to act as a trustee to make decisions that act in the best interests of my constituents. To be a truly effective representative we require a dynamic synthesis of all three roles.
After the debate in the House a decision is made on the matter. The decision is made by means of a vote. Where representation certainly takes place during the debate, actual representation happens when the vote is cast.
Because members are required to be away from this place from time to time it is not possible for them to be present at all times when a vote is called. When a member does not cast a vote
it can be argued that the member's constituents were not represented.
Let us recognize that we have the ability today to ensure that every member is able to vote on every bill from anywhere in the world. The technology can work for us.
Let us look at the second function, that of legislators. The decision to introduce legislation is not arbitrary but rather the development of implementation of legislative measures which reflect the goals of all Canadians. In its ideal form legislation is a result of consensus among Canadians. A recent example of consensus gathering was the pre-budget debate in this House. Another was the consultation of the Minister of Finance in four major urban centres in Canada. Although it is commendable that the minister sought the advice of Canadians it is unfortunate that this type of consultation does not occur before every major government decision.
Further, it is too bad that many Canadians were excluded and did not have the opportunity to participate in the finance minister's sessions. An electronic town hall meeting similar to the one recently held by U.S. Vice-President Al Gore would have enabled residents from every part of Canada to participate simultaneously in such consultations through technological interconnections.
A much wider and probably more representative consultation would have resulted without incurring the costs of air fares, hotels, meals and sundry items, to say nothing of the personal energy that was invested by the persons involved in travelling about this country.
A final function of a member is that of legitimization. Democracy requires that the rules which govern society are respected. Respect results from an acceptance, not necessarily agreement with legislation either past or present. The notion of legitimization comes from belief that a member will act in accordance with the rules of decorum and do the utmost to represent the riding.
Legitimization occurs as a function of the member voting on legislation, responding to constituents and fulfilling the promises made during an election campaign.
The notion of legitimization may be taken one step farther to include access to information. A government which voluntarily shares information as well as seeks the opinions of its people instils trust between government and the people. Failure to observe this relationship results in cynicism as was evident during the last federal election.
Open and easy access demystifies the political process and reaffirms the need for our existence. I am suggesting that we examine the contents of the technology treasure chest.
Technology can allow individuals to communicate more readily and easily with their members and with the government as a whole. My job as a representative of my constituents would be made easier if the federal government took a big step forward and provided greater integration, technological integration, within the House and outside the House.
Many Canadians know that both government and business leaders need to understand the drivers of change within our economic system. Those who understand the impact of technology and the impact that it will have will be the successful leaders of the future.
Many aspects of the tomorrow envisioned by Alvin Toffler in his works The Third Wave and Future Shock are upon us today. Technology affords us the right to expect bringing into existence, probably in the House, the concept of electronic democracy. It is this concept that should be incorporated into any discussion concerning parliamentary reform, particularly as we try to fulfil the many roles that members must undertake to represent their constituents.
We are taking small steps in the proposed amendment, but now is the time to take a big step and significantly alter the standing orders of the House of Commons to incorporate technology and thus greater involvement from all Canadians into the decision making process. Imagine electronic referendums and more direct, less complicated democracy, electronic interaction with constituents and with this place.
Now is the time. Carpe diem. Let us seize the day.