House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was students.


Income Tax ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan


Ralph Goodale Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Income Tax ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, while we allowed the bill to pass through the committee stage without real debate I would like to echo the remarks of the previous speaker on two points. Number one, we are dealing with some amendments that were announced by press conference as far back as December 1992. That was a year and a half ago and the House has only be asked to deliberate these items today.

The Reform Party would like to see some improvements in the way this government and this House are run. I think from now on any time we find material being brought to this House for our consent, 18 months after it has been introduced by press conferences no less, we would take an entirely different point of view.

This House has the privilege of passing legislation. As far as the Income Tax Act is concerned, as we know, many people have made decisions based on these proposals that we are being asked to implement into law today. To go back and have that all changed would make it almost an impossible situation for the people of this country to try to figure out their taxes. Therefore

let us put this government on notice now that this type of long delay will not be tolerated from now on.

The other thing the previous speaker from the Reform Party said concerned the complexity of this document. The Income Tax Act is far too complex, far beyond the comprehension even of many tax experts and lawyers, far less the average Canadian on the street. When it comes to fairness in taxation not only should a tax be reasonable in amount but also a taxpayer should be able to understand on what basis he is being taxed.

The way this Income Tax Act has become over the years is far beyond the comprehension of many Canadians as to how the government levies taxation in this country. This government would be well advised to simplify the Income Tax Act and take that as an ongoing project. No doubt at the speed at which it is introducing legislation in this new government it will take many years. We will leave that for another debate on another day.

Another point I would like to mention is regarding the taxation of life insurance companies. I understand that their taxation may be a little different than others. One of the points that was made was that insurance companies pay an appropriate level of federal tax. I was a little taken back by the words "appropriate level of federal tax".

It seems this government and governments today have this idea that everybody who makes a dollar has to share it with the government, rather than the government saying it needs to collect revenues to pay for the services it delivers to Canadians. We have moved away from that. The fact is we are obligated to share a larger and larger share and now it is almost a majority share of what a person earns. It has to be taken by government in this country. That whole attitude I think is indicative of one of the reasons this country is in the financial mess it is today.

One of the items in the bill is the simplification of income tax treatment of automobile operating costs. It took the government a whole year before it could rewrite the rules regarding the simplification of automobile costs. Even today under the new rules to ask somebody to understand the simplified rules is complex, except for one thing; namely, you can work on a very simple rule provided you give more than what would be your normal share to the government.

If you are driving a company car and you use that for a small portion of your private travel, provided you pay taxes on half the cost of that automobile, even if you only use it for 10 per cent or 20 per cent or 30 per cent of the time for private business, they will let you take a simple 50 per cent of the cost and pay taxes on that amount.

It puts the onus on the taxpayer to keep the detailed method, otherwise he is being hosed by the government. This attitude again is endemic and goes back, as I said, to the life insurance company; pay your appropriate level of taxes, make sure you share your profits with us, and as far as taxpayers using automobiles is concerned, provided you pay more than what you would otherwise do you can use a simple method of making your calculation.

The whole system, the whole attitude toward payment of taxes, the collection of taxes by the government I think has to change.

These are the concerns that we have. As I say, 12 to 18 months is far too long for legislation to be presented in this House.

Taxpayers are expected to know the Income Tax Act, which is now beyond their comprehension. The other thing is that if you take a look at the Income Tax Act as published, remember it does not have many of these things that are being proposed today and passed into legislation today. Many of these things pertain to last year, 1993 tax returns. How is the taxpayer expected to know really how he is supposed to prepare his tax return for 1993, which should have been filed by April 30, a month ago, when we are only setting the rules today? That is the type of situation that has to change.

I will close there and hope that this government will take these points under advisement. Then we will not have to go through this process of 18 months after the fact approving legislation.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed.)

The House resumed from May 24 consideration of the motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should immediately take the required measures to authorize the construction of a high-speed train (HST) linking the cities of Windsor and Quebec City, as well as the necessary infrastructure.

High Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It being 5.30 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 45(5)( a ), the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion of Mr. Laurin respecting private members' business.

Call in the members.

Before the taking of the vote:

High Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. This is the first time we have voted like this and this is how we are going to do it.

Following the adoption of the 24th report of the Standing Committee on House Management on Wednesday, April 29, 1992, the division will be taken row by row, starting with the mover, the hon. member for Joliette, and then proceeding with those in favour of the motion sitting on the same side of the House in the first row.

Once we have finished on this side, row by row, we will move to the other side, proceeding row by row.

Then those in favour of the motion sitting on the other side of the House will be called. So all those on my left-


-and, Mr. Laurin, you will go first.

-but in the first row in favour of the motion will please rise.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

High Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act respecting the making of loans and the provision of other forms of financial assistance to students, to amend and provide for the repeal of the Canada Student Loans Act, and to amend one other act in consequence thereof, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 45(5)(a), the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion at the second reading stage of Bill C-28.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It being 6.10 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed, from April 18, 1994, consideration of the motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should permit Members of the House of Commons to fully represent their constituents' views on the government's legislative program and spending plans by adopting the position that the defeat of any government measure, including a spending measure, shall not automatically mean the defeat of the government unless followed by the adoption of a formal motion.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give the floor at this time to the hon. member for Beaver River and, with your permission, speak after her.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Is it agreed?

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate this chance to speak to Motion No. 89 and I also appreciate my colleague's good will to let me get on to another function as soon as I am done.

I would like to take this opportunity to lend my wholehearted support to this private member's motion, Motion No. 89, put forward by my friend and colleague from Mission-Coquitlam.

This whole thing deals with the idea of free votes and I would like to preface my remarks by saying something that probably all of us in this House know, and that is that Canadians are seeking dynamic and constructive change in their political institutions. Canadians are asking for political representatives who will listen to them-it would be a marvellous change to have political people listen rather than talk all the time-who will consult with them, who will respond to them, and then will come to Parliament and represent their views.

We in this 35th Parliament have the opportunity as well as the responsibility to examine the concerns expressed by Canadians. For example, we can determine the deficiencies in the way we do business in this institution and then seek to improve the process to bring about constructive change.

The exercise of freer voting through relaxation of the confidence convention would be a great first step. Freer voting would be a progressive and constructive change in the way we do business in this institution. Freer voting would encourage more consultation with constituents, thus strengthening the link between the individual representatives and their electors. Freer voting will allow ordinary members to demonstrate independence of thought and give them greater influence in committees and in the House.

Members' views, particularly on the government side, will be given greater weight by cabinet and constituents will realize that they too have a stronger voice.

Freer voting is only one of several sensible, pragmatic, progressive parliamentary reforms that this House should adopt to improve the quality of representative democracy in this country. We will serve Canadians well if we adopt this motion by my friend from Mission-Coquitlam during this Parliament.

It is easy to say we are changing the standing orders, we are making all kinds of things different to make sure that members are better heard, and yet we hear stories already about the backbench blues from the government side, realizing that the way the system is set up right now we are not able to have backbenchers have real, solid, significant input to the whole political process, that cabinet makes all those decisions.

Let us look at the historical perspective of it for a moment. I have attempted to do some modest reading on the evolution of parliamentary government in Canada to gain a better understanding of why ordinary members, particularly on the government side, have become so inconsequential in the development of legislation and have become trapped in the iron cage of party discipline.

I was delighted to find that in the British House of Commons in the mid-19th century members acted in a highly individualistic way. Private bills were common, legislation introduced by cabinet members was often amended or defeated without the fall of the government. It would be so refreshing in this House to see that there was a vote taken and that cabinet members perhaps voted against something, or backbenchers voted against a cabinet member's legislation which would not mean the defeat of the government; it would just mean the defeat of that particular piece of legislation.

Our Parliament is fashioned after the British parliamentary system and in the early days of our Parliament political parties were relatively loose associations of like minded people and it was not uncommon for members to vote against the party line. Party leaders spent much time seeking support for proposed legislation and there was continued dialogue between the party leadership and the backbench members. A political career was possible without the backing of a political party.

If you go ahead to the present from the past you see how different things have become in this very Chamber. It is one thing to talk about the political institutions in Canada and about how things were way back then, but this is the same place we are standing in today and we realize how important it is for MPs in this day and age to be backed by a political party. It was not always this way.

Political parties now have become the dominant actors in the political process. They provide the identity for candidates, the research and policy development process and they have the ability to raise taxpayer supported funds, necessary in large amounts today as we all know to fight an election campaign. Once elected an MP cannot function effectively without the support of a political party. Maybe there are things to be learned and gained from the past.

This growth of political parties and their importance to aspiring or elected politicians has enabled them, the parties, to exercise strict discipline. Those who speak out against party policy or vote against the party line are disciplined. Witness the last Parliament, Mr. Speaker, in which you and I sat. At least four members were publicly disciplined or expelled by their parties.

How well I remember the whole situation in 1990 when a couple of members crossed the floor. They had voted against the GST, the government line, and were banished from the caucus within 24 hours. I laugh always and say they were given the worst fate possible from the government: They had to sit beside the member for Beaver River in the very back row. How times change.

The present situation is succinctly stated by C.E.S. Franks in his excellent work entitled The Parliament of Canada , 1989 edition, page 110:

Disciplined parties are necessary for responsible government, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that discipline is excessive at present. A terribly high price is paid both in terms of bringing Parliament into disrepute and in terms of restricting the contribution individual members can make in Parliament.

As I have come to know some of the members, certainly not all of them, I am impressed with the amount of individual talent and individual skill members possess in this House. It upsets me that we are not able to utilize that to the fullest because of the excessive party discipline.

During the last 30 years there have been all kinds of studies, forums and committees on parliamentary reform. Many recommendations have been implemented concerning the use of Parliament's time, the timetable for business of the House, standing orders, rules of debate, et cetera. Several of them have discussed the confidence convention and the role of members.

Rather than just tinkering with the standing orders or talking about generalities we should look at the most significant and specific of these. That of course is the special committee on reform. It was an all-party committee chaired by the Hon. James McGrath which tabled its report in this house in 1985.

The McGrath report stated that if members are to exert influence over policy making in committees or in the House itself, they will have to be able to demonstrate independence of thought. Again I say how refreshing that would be to see independence of thought in this place where individual members were able to have real input rather than for example, a government backbencher being told: "That's fine, thank you. Cabinet will discuss it and make its decision".

They argued in the McGrath report that the only thing which stands in the way of the exercise of independence is the need for a change in attitude on the part of government. It was not the need for a change in fancy rules, the laws or the constitution of country, but just a change in the attitude of party leaders and private members.

This change in attitude would lead to a reduction in party discipline. It would demonstrate that unquestioned obedience to the party line is not the only route to advancement in the party. Let me digress by saying that unquestioned obedience is expected in a German Shepherd, not in a member of Parliament. We need a change in attitude that would allow members to vote as their constituents wish which at times is against the wishes of the leadership without fear of reprimand or punishment.

The McGrath committee made other recommendations which called for a change in attitude by the government and all members in this House from all sides.

An important change was with respect to the election of the Speaker. The committee recommended that the Speaker cease to be appointed by the Prime Minister. Rather, he or she would be elected by secret ballot of the members. All of us in this House have experienced the positive change which was brought about. The Prime Minister of the day, the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, allowed that change to take place.

In this the 35th Parliament, we had one of the most exciting days of this entire parliamentary term when we saw the election of the Speaker for this House in January. Changes are possible and we are excited about that.

My colleague's resolution is of similar scope. Modest in concept in what it proposes, it asks only for a change in attitude from all members in this House, all backbenchers, opposition parties, government, cabinet and the Prime Minister. A change in the attitude to the confidence convention and a change in

attitude to the independence of members are what we desperately need now. It is not a large request.

Also relevant of course are the 1991 speech from the throne, and the 1991 constitutional proposals in the booklet entitled "Shaping Canada's Future Together", which of course was the map work, design and the beginning of the proposals for the Charlottetown accord. They noted even though those proposals were defeated soundly there were good things in them. They noted that excessive party discipline and excessive partisanship are factors which erode the public's confidence in their representatives.

The House management committee in its report of April 1993 suggested there be some reform of party discipline and endorsed the idea of freeing up voting in the House: "With few exceptions, motions proposed by the government should be considered as motions of confidence only when clearly identified as such by the government".

The issues have been identified and discussed many times. Solutions have also been identified and discussed. Let us in this 35th Parliament take some action. Let us move ahead and adopt the motion in front of us.

Finally, let me say that even the Liberal red book which was campaigned on in this past election talked about freeing up votes. It is going to be just marvellous to see the government support this motion. Hopefully it will not just be something in the red book, but will be something which is transferred into this green Chamber. The government and opposition parties will be able to say: "We sat in that 35th Parliament of Canada where we made real substantive changes and reforms to the way politics are done in this country. We saw real parliamentary and democratic reform actually happening". We look forward to that and we appreciate the government's support on this matter.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the motion standing before us which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should permit Members of the House of Commons to fully represent their constituents' views on the government's legislative program and spending plans by adopting the position that the defeat of any government measure, including a spending measure, shall not automatically mean the defeat of the government unless followed by the adoption of a formal motion.

Mr. Speaker, the votable motion of the hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam suggests that members will be called upon to speak on the matter of confidence and thence, on the question of free votes.

Moreover, I already rose to speak on the matter in conjunction with the debate on free votes and in keeping with what I said, I would like to make two observations at the outset. When I read the text, two things caught my attention and left me with some serious doubts as to the relevance of this motion.

The motion starts off by saying that the government should permit Members of the House to fully represent their constituents' views. One has to wonder why a member would not now be representing the interests of his constituents. What the motion is really saying is that a member who does not vote according to the party line is not representing the interests of his constituents.

If we follow this logic, we can only conclude, first, that the election platforms of political parties do not have universal support and, second, that constituent views vary from one riding to the next.

This view of political reality is absurd and purely fictional. Let us not forget that political party platforms are aimed at getting as many voters as possible to embrace the same ideology and to share the same social, economic and political vision of community organization, be it municipal or regional.

It should also be noted that this perception of reality negates regional realities. For example, the electorate who voted for the Bloc Quebecois represents a regional entity that shares a certain geopolitical vision of that part of North America known as Quebec. How can a reality such as this be denied?

The second part of the motion deals with the principle of confidence which underlies our parliamentary system and the concept of responsible government. In accordance with this principle, the party forming the majority in the House of Commons must be able to demonstrate that it enjoys the support of the majority of the members in the House.

In a majority government situation, this is seldom a problem, except when the majority is very slim. In a Parliament with a government in command of a majority, the matter of confidence has really been settled by the electorate. Consider the last election. The province of Ontario enabled the Liberal Party of Canada to capture an overwhelming majority of seats in the House. Which means that the government party is strongly represented in this province.

Why then should the scope of this principle be weakened, as the motion seems to want to do, if in a parliamentary system, the matter of confidence has only a minimal effect on the way in which House business is conducted? In view of these facts, the Bloc Quebecois has some difficulty understanding the relevance of such a motion and supporting it.

Before touching more specifically on the Bloc's position with respect to Motion No. 89, I would like to draw the House's attention to a very timely observation made by the Standing

Committee on House Management which appeared in the committee's April 1993 report on parliamentary reform.

The report stated the following, and I quote: "Each party has to make its own decisions as to whether and when free votes are to be allowed-it is not up to the House, or to other parties. There is no single definition of what constitutes a `free vote': one can see it in terms of a Member's conscience, a Member's role in reflecting majority opinion in his or her riding, whether the Member's party caucus has taken a position or decision on the issue or not".

No, there is no single definition of what a free vote is and we cannot really have such a thing in the House of Commons. The political environment is changing and is never really the same from one election to the next. How could we have such a rule for a Canada which is so divided, where the very existence of a single nation is challenged by at least a fifth of the population? Under these circumstances, again, it is hard for us to support this motion.

We have said many times that the Bloc Quebecois has no mandate at all from its constituents to reform federal institutions; its mandate is to defend Quebec's interests in the House of Commons according to parliamentary rules and traditions. We do not believe that having free votes in the House could be in Quebecers' interest, since we think that it could diminish the opposition's ability to call the government to account.

Nevertheless, members of the Bloc Quebecois are fully aware of the value for democracy of having the citizens' representatives vote freely in the nation's legislative assembly. If anything gives backbenchers their freedom, it is free votes.

Less party discipline is undoubtedly an effective way to increase a backbencher's autonomy. Having members vote freely in the House on a daily basis would necessarily involve a redistribution of political power in Canada and Quebec.

Of course, we consider free votes for members of the House of Commons to be utopian and in the present Canadian context, we have trouble imagining a situation where all members could express their own political vision of their society, without any search for consensus or any reflection of regional reality.

Nevertheless, let me say in closing that the election results of last October 25 are in a way the expression of a free vote by some two million Quebecers who, by electing 54 representatives from the Bloc Quebecois, stated their dissatisfaction with the old parties. We know that these voters have had it with the Canada-wide politics of the Liberal and Conservative parties and gave the Bloc Quebecois a mandate to achieve sovereignty for Quebec.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to participate in this debate on Motion M-89, which reads as follows: "That-the government should permit Members of the House of Commons-"

I have a question to ask right away. We just had a vote in this House 15 minutes ago. The Reform Party voted as a group, as did the Bloc Quebecois. Which party had a free vote? It was the government and not the opposition. So the motion should be rephrased and say instead that the opposition should allow free votes. The government has already done so. The government made that promise in the last election campaign, and delivered on it in this House no more than 15 or 20 minutes ago.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Raymond Bonin Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Another promise kept!

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Another promise kept, as my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt so eloquently said.

There is another problem. The motion goes on to say:

-including a spending measure, shall not automatically mean the defeat of the government unless followed by the adoption of a formal motion.

I am sorry to disappoint those who tabled the motion but we have already made this change to our rules. It did not happen yesterday but on December 20, 1984. I realize that the Reform Party is a little behind sometimes. Nevertheless, the date was December 20, 1984, and this is what Beauchesne, sixth edition, page 49, has to say on this:

The determination of issue of confidence in the government is not a question of procedure or order, and does not involve the interpretive responsibilities of the Speaker. Following the recommendations of the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure, as well as those of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (December 20, 1984), the House removed references in the Standing Orders which described votable motions on allotted days as questions of confidence.

I would suggest this has existed informally from time immemorial, with the exception of opposition day motions and even in the case of opposition day motions since December 20, 1984.

The members opposite know full well, I am sure, that the defeat of any bill does not automatically mean the defeat of the government. It is the motion of non-confidence and not the bill itself which has that effect; the rules are clear on this. So if the rules do not provide for such an automatic outcome, I am telling you that, in fact, the government or even the House already permits the kind of initiative proposed by the hon. member.

This is already permitted. There is no need to permit it; it is already there. Maybe we should say that we should continue to permit it. Would that not be a great idea? Why do we not say that?

Before I conclude I want to bring another proposition to the attention of members of the House about having everything a free vote, if that is what some people are thinking. We must remember the history of this great country in that regard.

I see the hon. member for Bellechasse who is very knowledgeable about Canadian history. I am sure he knows that the 1837 rebellion in Upper Canada and Lower Canada was largely motivated by a desire for responsible government. What that means? It means that a government is defeated when it loses the confidence of the House. Our ancestors fought for this because it was the ultimate test of democracy when a government fell if it no longer had the confidence of the House. That was in 1837. Ironically, the British government had offered to give us responsible government at the time, but here in Canada we did not want it. It took until about 1848 for us to have what could be called responsible government in Canada. After 1837, there was the Durham report, and then it took until 1848.

It is interesting that notwithstanding everything we have said before today I hear members across saying that responsible government with a capital r as we know it in this country seems to be something of the past. I do not believe so.

I believe the Prime Minister and his cabinet are there as ministers only so long as I and my colleagues around here allow them to remain the government of the country. Surely if there is any test of how democratic a country can be, that is it. All members of the House could one day withdraw confidence in the government and the government would cease to govern that very day.

Let it never be said that backbenchers do not have power. That is not so. That has never been so, but let us not make this system into some sort of an institution where all of us will become political eunuchs. That would be wrong.

Nevertheless, to conclude, I repeat that some things the member is asking, particularly to the effect that spending measures in a bill shall not automatically mean the defeat of government, is not the case now. It is permitted and we should continue to permit it. That being said, I move the following motion:

That the motion be amended by inserting between the word "should" and the word "permit" the words "continue to".

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The amendment is deemed acceptable.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I speak today in wholehearted support of the motion put forward by the member for Mission-Coquitlam.

The motion expresses the importance of having fewer votes in the House of Commons considered to be votes of confidence. This would ensure that the defeat of a government motion would not bring down the government, unless a separate vote of non-confidence was passed immediately following the initial vote.

It is important to make the distinction between free votes and freer votes. Presently free votes occur when party leaders release their MPs from the party line and grant them permission to vote according to their conscience or their better judgment. However this may not necessarily be a vote for the majority of the constituents.

Freer votes would mean having fewer non-confidence votes. This would enable members to vote when necessary against their party but for the majority of their constituents without suffering the negative consequences of party discipline.

In order to illustrate my support for the motion the following three questions must be answered. What is the problem with the system now? What changes are needed? How would these changes make Parliament operate better. The problem lies with the succession of Canadian governments which have taken the convention of confidence motions too far, beyond other British parliamentary democracies.

Legally and constitutionally members of Parliament have the right to vote freely in the House now. However the minority governments of the 1960s had to enforce tough party discipline because voting against the party often led to or at least threatened defeat of the government. Members towing the party line could count on favoured status within the party. Given these two factors there was very little incentive for government backbenchers to vote with the majority of their constituents and against the government position.

This move to a system of top down democracy has marginalized the role of backbench MPs. As a result individual members of Parliament have been denied input into the direction and legislation brought forth by their government.

During the 1972 to 1974 Trudeau minority government the interpretation of a confidence vote was loosened considerably. Trudeau declared that the defeat of a government motion would not mean the defeat of the government. As a result he was able to remain in power despite defeat of government motions, marking a return to the more historic interpretation of the confidence convention. Despite this, however, Trudeau maintained iron--

fist control over members of his party to ensure they voted the party line.

With subsequent governments we have now arrived at an interpretation of the confidence convention in which virtually all votes are considered to be votes of confidence. Therefore changes will be needed in the House in order to make the motion we are proposing today work.

The tradition of tough party discipline can only be reversed with the co-operation of members of all parties. A giant step forward can be made, however, if the Prime Minister were to rise in the House and state that the defeat of a government bill or motion would not automatically defeat the government and, unlike Trudeau, relax party discipline. If this happened we would be well on our way to bringing about this change.

The leaders of the opposition parties must also play a part in loosening the stranglehold of party discipline. A change in attitude is needed to move away from the opposition mentality of automatically opposing everything put forward by the government.

As Reformers we have worked toward providing constructive alternatives whenever possible. This is reflected clearly in the process a Reform MP goes through in determining how to vote on a particular issue.

First, Reformers believe it is the responsibility of each member of Parliament to vote the wishes of the majority of his or her constituents in all cases. How does an MP know what the wishes of the majority are? On important moral issues such as abortion, capital punishment and physician assisted suicide, the issue should be settled by referendum held at the same time as a federal election. Direct democracy is used to determine the wishes of the majority and policy should reflect this.

Because present and past governments have refused to institute referenda as a right on moral issues and on issues presented through citizens' initiatives, Reform MPs go to their constituents through constituency surveys and vote based on the majority view. This is how Reformers will vote in the House on the physician assisted suicide issue, for example.

On certain other well developed policy issues which were presented and debated during the election campaign, MPs will assume that a mandate was given at election time and is valid unless there are indications to the contrary. On other issues which were not campaigned on and in areas where there is not well developed policy, the view of constituents can be verified in different but appropriate ways. When specific issues require an immediate response, like the cigarette tax proposals presented by the government, an MP can solicit feedback from the constituents through a telephone survey. Broader issues of national importance, for example the GST, require more formal mechanisms to determine the wishes of constituents.

When various bills and motions come before the House which are not moral issues or when there is not sufficient time to make a survey of constituents, Reformers measure the pros and cons of the proposed bill or motion by asking themselves how it fits in with the party platform and principles. We ask ourselves the following questions as well. How much does it cost? Is it needed? Can we do it for less? The answers to all of these questions determine how we will vote on a given issue.

MPs will vote in the House of Commons based on the outcome of the caucus vote unless they have determined by the appropriate mechanism that their constituents want them to vote otherwise. In such a case the majority wishes of the constituents always prevail.

On issues such as reducing government spending, justice reform and making the political system more democratic there will usually be party solidarity. On other issues opinions may vary and a split Reform vote will occur in the House. This process certainly helped to overcome some of the problems caused by the current over zealous interpretation of the confidence convention, but not all of them.

The motion we are debating today would help change the current mindset that enforces toeing the party line because the incentive of forming a new government as a result of a defeated government bill or motion would no longer exist.

Once the House is rid of this burden it would enable each member of Parliament to freely voice the views of their constituents without fear of party discipline if they contradict the party line.

I believe this will foster more meaningful debate. It will lead to more informed decisions which genuinely reflect the views of the majority of Canadians and ultimately result in better legislation.

Therefore, when members of another party vote against their party line it should be applauded as a sign of strength rather than viewed as a sign of party weakness or a weak link in the party.

Canadians have become truly disillusioned with government because members of Parliament often vote the party line against the majority view of their constituents.

I realize that when Canadians vote for an individual they are also supporting some of the platform the individual and the party ran on during the election campaign. However, it is unrealistic to believe that any one party, even the Reform Party, can accurately reflect the opinions of a majority of people on all issues.

My question is this. Why should members of Parliament be penalized for representing their constituents? The answer is they should not. MPs no longer will be penalized through party

discipline and trust in government will be restored if this motion is accepted.

In closing there are two questions all members of Parliament might ask themselves. First, what negative consequences could result from backing this Reform motion which would improve the role of individual members and therefore the government as a whole? The answer: none, no negative consequences.

Second, what negative consequences will result if members do not support this motion? Representation will not improve. Maybe there will be no immediate backlash from constituents but as voters see their wishes betrayed again and again over the next four years because members are obliged to toe the party line, the answer will be very clear and it will come in the next election. I believe it will be the same answer the Conservatives received during the last election. Think about it.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

May 25th, 1994 / 6:45 p.m.


Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I speak today in support of the motion introduced by my colleague from Mission-Coquitlam. I believe members ought to consider three propositions relating to the measures she has placed before the House: first, that freer votes are needed; second, that freer votes are coming; and third, that freer votes should be welcomed.

I suggest freer votes together with relaxation of the confidence convention will allow members of Parliament to truly fulfil their responsibility to represent the interests of their constituents in Parliament.

The strength of our party system is of the utmost importance. That is to say party members must act as a team. They must be able to stand united behind a clearly articulated action plan. Parties must be a source of inspiration. They must ensure that MPs do not vote arbitrarily or irresponsibly. That is why we must present them with measures which would enable them to move the system toward a more direct democracy. Indeed in a representative democracy the paramount responsibility of elected members is surely to truly represent not only the party's interests but also those of their constituents.

This is the first of two reasons why I believe freer votes are needed. Put in its simplest terms democracy means rule by the people, not rule by a Prime Minister, not rule by a Prime Minister and cabinet, not rule by elected members belonging to a government party, not even rule by all 295 MPs, but rule by the people.

Regrettably in Canada few would argue that democracy in the full sense of government by the people does not exist. As Professor Mortimore has written, there is only a crude veto power at election time. In the absence of a system that translates informed public opinion into policy decisions, manipulative insiders will continue to make policy and govern.

I believe that democracy is not a fixed imperishable, but a dynamic that must be reinvigorated as old conventions grow increasingly unable to meet the needs of a changing society.

A true commitment to preserve and protect the essence of our democratic system, to ensure that we enjoy the reality, not just have the label of living in a democracy, is why we must now move toward mechanisms like freer votes which will more truly empower a better informed and technologically advanced public.

In addition to our obligation as leaders and elected representatives to preserve and promote truly democratic government there is a second reason why measures like freer votes are needed. The system must change because it has largely lost the trust, respect and support of the people it must serve.

One need look no further than the results of the last election to gauge the anger at the system that prevails in Canada today. It would be a mistake to assume that by changing the players in this institution the Canadian electorate has exhausted its political discontent. The 1993 election was a symptom of the disease, not the cure.

Unless we ensure that national decision-making is more truly reflective of the judgment of Canadians they will continue to express their disdain for the decision-making system and for their representatives with all the resulting negative consequences for our society.

I sincerely believe that only reforms to the system will make it possible for Canadians to develop new confidence in the way they are governed. That is why I believe freer votes are needed as a small and necessary step in the process of reform. I also believe that free votes are coming.

I am a member of a party which is advocating more open and accountable government, subject to checks and balances controlled by the people themselves. The implementation of direct democracy measures such as recall, referendums and citizens' initiatives and freer votes is a key element of the Reform Party program.

This is a party that in six short years has already won enough support from the public to elect 52 members to represent the people of Canada in the House of Commons. However, we should be clear that Reformers have not created some sudden demand for direct democracy. Rather we are here because the demand existed but no traditional political vehicle was willing or able to respond to it.

The demand has been intense enough to energize Canadian citizens like me to devote the enormous amount of time and effort necessary to inject an entirely new dynamic into the

political equation. Neither the demand nor the determination to meet it is going to go away.

In addition, changes are occurring in our society which make democratic reforms imperative and inescapable. Citizens are focusing increasingly on their rights and demanding that those rights be met.

In the marketplace now the consumer is boss. Canadians are well educated, well travelled and well informed. They recognize the increasing degree to which policy decisions do not enjoy any broad public support. They comprehend the waste and mismanagement in the administration of the country's economic affairs and the burden of the huge mortgage that has been placed on our future. They are saying: "If anyone were listening to us such poor decisions would never be made. Perhaps it is time we got to make some of these decisions". They are saying these things louder and more insistently all the time.

Dr. David Elton of the Canada West Foundation has stated that we can fight this move toward direct democracy until it sweeps us aside or we can work to facilitate it through a thoughtful and well managed process. But one way or another, measures like freer votes are coming. It is up to us to ensure that this irresistible force does not meet immovable MPs because we have already seen that immovable MPs can and will be removed.

It is only fair to point out that the present Prime Minister has shown absolutely no sympathy or understanding for this clear desire on the part of Canadians to move toward direct democracy. He says he finds the notion of referendums repulsive. When presented with a petition signed by tens of thousands of voters demanding the right to recall a representative who has lost their confidence he says: "You will get your chance in four years and not before". He says MPs should vote as directed by the party they ran as part of and vote as directed by their own judgment. Freedom to vote the wishes of the constituents who elected an MP to represent them in Parliament does not make his list.

In fact the government House leader, in proposing changes to the rules of the House of Commons on February 7 explicitly excluded any mention of free votes, stating that the subject cannot be dealt with by the rules. He then spent considerable time denying the legitimacy of free votes in Canada's parliamentary system, including reference to our constitutional legacy from the United Kingdom. What he failed to mention is that the United Kingdom's Parliament has enjoyed free votes for over 20 years now. He does not explain why this legacy has been ignored in our Canadian Parliament.

I would like to conclude on a positive note with my third proposition that free votes should be welcomed. Canadians, a tolerant and forbearing people by nature, remain willing to allow their representatives a good measure of latitude in the exercise of their own judgment and in support for the program a representative's party took to the voters.

Surely it is not too much to ask that when the member's own judgment or party agenda clearly and demonstrably diverges from the broad public consensus in the riding he or she represents that it is the constituents' interests which will carry the day. If we cannot countenance democracy even to that degree, if the views and conscience of one representative must always be able to override the interest and conscience of the thousands of electors he or she represents, then we ought to be honest, admit that we have abandoned the notion of being a democratic nation where the people rule and accept that we have instead an elected dictatorship.

Members of this House are glad to live in a democracy. We value and affirm our right as citizens in this democracy to make decisions for ourselves regarding our future and the laws within which we will conduct ourselves.

We recognize that such freedom is meaningless unless we, the elected representatives of Canadian citizens, stand ready, willing and able to give effect to their rights of self-determination by giving effect to their wishes when we vote on their behalf.

We continue to abrogate the democratic rights of our fellow citizens when we refuse to truly represent them for personal, partisan or political reasons. My colleague from Mission-Coquitlam has provided in her motion a very concrete measure by which we can allow our fellow citizens their legitimate role in a 21st century democracy.

It is a measure long since adopted in other respected democracies including our role model of the United Kingdom. Only we as members of this House of Commons, this house of the people, can be agents of needed change. Will we have the courage and commitment to be leaders our constituents can count on to put their interests ahead of our party when it comes down to a choice?

They voted for us. Will we vote for them? I urge members to support this motion.

Non-Confidence MotionsPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to speak in favour of Motion No. 89. I would like to thank the member for Mission-Coquitlam for bringing this motion to the attention of the House.

This motion goes to the very root of many of the fundamental problems with the Canadian political system. The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should permit members of the House of Commons to fully represent their constituents' views on the government's legislative program-

That is part of what the motion states. I believe this to be a very important component in relation to parliamentary reforms. There are many approaches that one can take in discussing the full motion. I would like to perhaps focus on what the passage of this motion would mean to MPs who are not in government positions or shadow cabinet positions but relegated backbenchers and what it actually means to them to not be able to participate in government decisions or shadow cabinet decisions, et cetera.

In other words, I am actually trying to explain to the Liberal MPs who find themselves in the backbench row why it is in their best interest to support this motion. One thing this motion would do is give individual members more authority and more responsibility.

The agenda of a government would not simply be written by the cabinet ministers and the top bureaucrats. If this motion were passed, cabinet would have to consult and listen to comments from backbencher MPs when drafting legislation.

For example, when the 1994 budget was drafted, who actually put it together? Were all the members of the Liberal Party which is the governing party sought out for advice on what they would like to see in the budget or was the budget put together by the finance minister and by the people of the finance department?

The basic problem here is that the government which drafts the legislation and sets the agenda is the ministers. Essentially the cabinet is the government. Members of the party that is in power which forms the government are almost in the same position as those in opposition except that they have fewer avenues to express their concerns or voice their opinions.

Many government party MPs are unfairly relegated to obscurity because they are not in a cabinet position. They do not have as much opportunity as opposition MPs to ask questions during Question Period; there is a greater number of them so they have less opportunity to give speeches or to be noticed for their efforts. It must be frustrating for the government party MPs to be so restricted in what they can actually do to reflect a positive change on government. This is something that should be changed.

Working on committees with members from other parties has shown me that there people in all parties with much to contribute to this country. Innovative ideas, thoughtful solutions are not solely possessed by any party in this House. By opening up the process to all members we add much more in terms of ideas, proposals and solutions.

Instead of the government simply counting on unquestionable support of all government party MPs, leaders would have to deal with issues and problems in such a way as to achieve consensus.

The second positive aspect I want to address is that this legislation would enable members to be more responsive to their constituents and to the regions where the need arises. There are certain issues that cut across party lines and form instead along regional or provincial lines; for example, agricultural fishery issues.

The system of voting along party lines has produced the extreme partisanship that currently exists in Canadian politics. I believe this partisanship to be largely negative. It creates a situation in which the opposition must vigorously oppose everything the government does or it is seen as not doing its job.

That is not why I entered politics, nor is it why the Reform Party came to town. We believe that reformers came to Ottawa intent on improving the atmosphere and the workings of Parliament. We came here intending not to partake in partisan bickering but to provide a constructive alternative to the government.

By trying to follow this strategy we have been roundly criticized, especially by the media. Most comments I read in the media seem to think that Reform provides no opposition at all. Our lack of opposition is seen because we are not screaming, yelling and pounding on desks.

Certainly there exists a fundamental difference in political philosophies between the Liberals, Reformers and all parties and we must be aware of that. That philosophical difference should not prevent us all from working together and putting our ideas out in the House, or even forming non-partisan coalitions to effect some positive change.

The more we involve individual MPs in the democratic process, the more the people of Canada will become involved in the process. The people of Canada understand that their political power is essentially limited to a vote every four to five years. They understand that the party with the majority of seats forms the government which then has up to five years to implement an agenda. This results in making people apathetic and cynical about the happenings of governments between elections.

If the election of 1993 showed us anything it was that the people of Canada desperately want their public representatives to represent their concerns rather than simply tow party lines.

I understand that political parties are essential components of our political system and I also understand that we are national politicians who must have a national perspective, but our main focus as representatives must always be the people who sent us here, the people of our ridings. If we do not represent their wishes, why do we call ourselves a representative democracy?

I urge all members of this House to put aside their partisanship when regarding this bill and look at it in terms of its attempt to enable individual members of all parties to be more effective in representing their constituents. Let us demonstrate to the Canadian people that we have learned from the lesson of 1993 and respond to their call for a more open and responsive Parliament.