Mr. Speaker, once again, the government is hiding behind a motion. Does it ever like to delay proceedings in the House! A motion to create a committee to conduct another study. For more than 20 years, almost 25 years, various attempts by successive governments have met with repeated failure.
Had the government even the slightest political will to find a solution to the issue of conflict of interest, it would not have been satisfied with a vague motion to create a committee, but would have tabled a public bill improving on the ones that failed in the House.
The hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell mentioned Bill C-116 earlier, which finally died on the Order Paper during the previous 34th Parliament. It would probably have been possible to rewrite and refine Bill C-116 with the government policy, while taking into account the views of the opposition. But no. We are being proposed today a motion to create a joint committee made up of eight senators and 14 members of Parliament.
Fortunately, the amendment moved by the hon. member for La Prairie proposes that the committee no longer be a joint committee, but a House committee made up only of members of Parliament. The member for La Prairie even changes the membership; there would be 12 members of Parliament: seven Liberals, three members from the official opposition and two from the second opposition party, which seems fair and reasonable at first glance.
We do not need a joint committee. This House, which is made up of elected people, has its own rules and its own vision of things, while the Senate, which is made up of non elected people who are in office until the age of 75, also has its own different way of seeing things, a way with which we are not always comfortable working. Had the government wanted to involve both Houses in the development of a code of conduct, the best way of doing it would have been to table a bill. Of course, both this House and the Senate would have had to pass this bill before it could receive Royal Assent.
Instead, the government decided to create a working committee, another one. If we are to create such a committee, we should at least let the elected members study, by themselves, what constitutes a conflict of interest in their case. After all, after a maximum of five years, these people must go back to their constituents. They are accountable for their actions; they must explain why they took such and such political decisions. We should have this right, since our colleagues in the Senate do not have this sensitive test to pass. All they need is the Governor General's signature to be in office until the respectable age of 75.
Perhaps it could be interesting to get the other place's point of view, but certainly not in a joint committee. Moreover, such a committee would probably resurrect five Conservative senators whose party was literally eliminated by the Canadians in the October 1993 election and does not have official party status anymore in this House. It would be a way to give back a voice to people that want to be heard, these days. Last week-end, they stated their case in Hull, and with this motion, they would do so in a joint committee made up of members of Parliament and senators.
If nothing but to respect the will of the people, we should reject the creation of a joint committee. The referendum on the Charlottetown accord showed that the people rejected the Senate reforms, particularly in Quebec. The idea of a triple E Senate, that is equal, elected and efficient, was certainly not endorsed. The proposal was for six senators per province, regardless of the size of the province, and it was rejected.
Now, the government party wants an elected Senate, while the Reform Party wants a triple E Senate, which means that there is disagreement on the number of Es. For our part, we want a triple A Senate, that is to say abolished, abolished and abolished. No other institution in the world is denounced by as many people as is this other place we have in the Canadian Parliament. There is no reason for a non-elected house to continue to exist in 1995. Perhaps there was a need for it in 1867, but before 1867, the two Houses we had in the Province of Canada were elected. The legislative assembly of the Province of Canada was an elected assembly. Starting in 1854, the legislative council, which had been an appointed institution since 1840, became an elected one. This means that until 1867, we had two elected Houses. What
happened in 1867 that caused this split, with one house, the House of Commons, being elected, and the other, the Senate of Canada, not?
The preamble of the British North America Act, or BNA Act, 1867, can shed some light on this. In 1867, it was stated in this preamble that the Dominion of Canada wanted to have institutions similar to those of the United Kingdom. What were these institutions in 1867, and what are they still today? The House of Commons, like in Canada, and the House of Lords, made up of peers. Because we did not and still do not have an aristocracy in Canada, we invented our own lords, whom were called senators. Originally, they were appointed for life. But in 1965, the Canadian Constitution was amended so that a senator's tenure of office ends at age 75, while grandfathering the rights of those who were already sitting in the Senate at the time but had not yet reached the age of 75.
Since then, as we can see clearly, the role of the other House has become less important. The Senate now sits some 40 days a year and cannot introduce money bills under section 53 of the 1867 British North America Act. The house of sober second thought likes to drag things out, as demonstrated by the electoral boundaries readjustment bill, the GST legislation introduced by the previous government and other bills that may be filibustered by the other house in the future. Given the cost to Canadian society, I think that we could do without it.
If we asked Canadians, "Do you agree that the Senate should be abolished?", a very high percentage of them would say yes. The problem is, what should we replace it with and how should it be done? Responses vary. There is no consensus on replacement.
I, of course, am eager to support the amendment tabled by the hon. member for La Prairie to restrict committee membership to members of the House of Commons. If the Senate wants to strike its own committee, it will do so.
The hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell said a little earlier this afternoon that our institutions, including Parliament, were based on the Westminster model, while the hon. member for Saint-Léonard made some comments to that effect.
I heard earlier today our colleague, the hon. member for Elk Island, point out that we ranked 36th in the public's esteem, just before used car salesmen. It is probably because we have to defend a used system that should be refurbished, a system that, in the past 50 years, has seen a virtual takeover of the legislative power by the executive power. That was not the case previously, as we can see by looking at history. When our parliamentary ancestors fought to abolish or appropriate royal powers, they insisted that these powers should be held by the House of Commons.
Over time, royal powers shifted from the palace not to the House of Commons but to the Prime Minister's Office. It is there that important decisions are made.
In our constitutional system, which consists of three powers: the legislative, the judiciary and the executive, the legislative branch is, for all practical purposes, under the control of the executive, which in turn is under the control of the Prime Minister's Office.
We have the advantage, and sometimes the disadvantage, of having a neighbour that has inspired us to reform. Our American neighbours have inspired us to carry out some institutional reforms that may not be in our best interests. In a system in which the executive is elected and accountable to the population and not to the American Congress, a system in which members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are elected and not accountable to the executive, the situation is quite different.
In the U.S., what did the political parties decide to do? They decided to choose their party leaders, their candidates for the presidential election, at an all-members convention. We adopted this idea in Canada, so that some of our party leaders are elected by delegates at a general convention while others are elected by all party members.
In principle, this is great, but when we want to apply this to our parliamentary institutions, we face a big problem. The problem is that, when the party leader is also the Prime Minister, the party leader has practically unlimited power. First, to his cabinet colleagues, he can say: "Look, if you are here, it is because I appointed you". To his caucus, he can say: "I do not feel very accountable to you. After all, you are not the ones who elected me party leader. I am accountable to the party members who elected me". The problem is that supporters have no control over what the government party does.
You will see self-congratulatory conventions like the one held in Trois-Rivières, of course, but no real debate on party policies. The intent of the Constitution Act, 1867, was to have institutions similar to those of the United Kingdom. In Great Britain, the Prime Minister is elected by his or her peers. This means that the party leader is elected from within the caucus, primus inter pares , as the Latin saying goes. This was a much more subtle way of governing and a much more equitable one, since the Prime Minister was accountable first and foremost-and in Great Britain this is still the case-to his colleagues or peers.
The role of member of Parliament is all the more important, since members can ask and expect to obtain from their leader the answers they need to continue to support that leader. The Prime Minister's seat is probably more precarious, more of a hot seat in the British system than in ours, where one can wash one's
hands by telling the caucus: "You did not elect me". In fact, under our election law, the Prime Minister can even designate candidates himself, over-ruling the electoral conventions in the various ridings.
Imagine all the power in the hands of just one person. That person appoints cabinet members, ultimately decides who gets the top jobs in the public service, decides who is appointed to the bench, as well as who can run under the party's banner. That is a lot of power in the hands of just one person.
The time has come for a major review. I am not sure if the hon. member for Saint-Léonard was being ironic earlier when he referred to the important role of parliamentarians. Let us not forget that never before was Parliament controlled to such an extent by the executive level.
When we voted on Bill C-68, three Liberal members opposed the legislation, thus breaking ranks with their government colleagues. All three lost the positions which they held in parliamentary committees. And the member for Saint-Léonard has the nerve to tell us that we must respect the parliamentary institution. Was that institution respected then? We have to wonder.
True control is not exercised by MPs. If the government wants to give some control to members, it must first get rid of the executive level in this House. We do not need it here; let it go to Rideau Hall or on Sussex Drive, if there is room. It is quite possible to change the system so that a member's ultimate goal, his or her greatest ambition, will be to be the best possible member. There should be no incentive to eventually become a parliamentary secretary or a minister. Members in this House should have no ambition other than to be able to say: I was the best possible member for my riding. The prospect of future promotions should not be a factor.
Those who want to serve at the executive level can certainly do so. However, let us be careful not to mix the two levels, particularly in this House. We all know the perverse effects of this confusion between the legislative and the executive levels. It is high time we distanced ourselves and shifted more toward a congressional type of decision, adapting it, of course, to our way of thinking, to our practices and to our traditions by regulating the activities of lobbyists, the influence peddlars, in order to control them.
The real issue is not members' powers or conflict of interest. We already have Standing Order 21, which provides the following, and, with your permission, I will quote it:
No member is entitled to vote upon any question in which he or she has a direct pecuniary interest, and the vote of any Member so interested will be disallowed.
The criterion is there; it is basic. When problems arise, we have the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, previously the committee on privileges and elections, which is empowered to hear all matters that may arise pertaining to a member's status or conflict of interest.
The committee has only to exercise its powers. Nothing is stopping it. If problems are brought to the attention of colleagues in the House, they may be raised, and the Speaker may determine prima facie that there is justification for their referral to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The mechanisms are already in place. Why create more? It would probably be enough to have something more flexible at the level of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs so we could have our committee on the rules of ethics in order to improve our operations. It would be much wiser and better advised to control the goings-on in the Prime Minister's office.
The government is currently behaving like Nero. Legend has it that Nero played his fiddle while Rome burned down. Similarly, while the government fails to follow its own policies on ethical conduct, while the Prime Minister himself tells us that he did not consult his ethics counsellor before taking certain decisions, we are being told that parliamentarians must be watched.
But let us avoid diversion. Diversion may be a very useful tactic in a hockey game during the last few minutes of third period, in order to stop the opponent from scoring a goal. In politics though, diversion tactics should not be overused. I think that we have gone a little too far. Recent cases like that of DirecTv show that mere parliamentarians are not the ones intervening to change decisions. Obviously, people from outside the House are making direct representations to either the Prime Minister's office or to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Let us start by really enforcing a code of conduct throughout government, at the ministerial and the executive level. Then it will undoubtedly be time to examine the ethics of the members of this House, the legislative branch of our constitution.