Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my hon. colleague. I agree with what he had to say.
It is helpful to have this type of motion presented every now and then for a reality check to see if anything has changed in Parliament.
I will speak today about parliamentary reform. When we first arrived here in the cold of the winter 1993-94, I took on the responsibility of chairing the group in my party particularly interested in parliamentary reform. Except for the members for Lethbridge and Beaver River, we were all pretty new at this and we felt that with a little change here and there and a slight move parliamentary rules could probably be changed quite easily.
We became quick learners, realizing rules and traditions grown up over many years were not so easily changed. I admit in some instance we became aware of the need for these rules and why they should be left alone.
If life is a great learning experience, parliamentary life is at least doubly so. Two things happened very early in this Parliament that led me to believe real change was possible. The first was the introduction and subsequent adoption of the government motion which directed the procedure and House affairs committee to study a whole range of matters dealing with reform.
The motion referred to freer voting, sending bills to committee prior to second reading, allowing committees to draft bills, referendums, recall and other methods by which backbenchers or private members could become more involved in the policy influencing process.
The second matter that gave me hope was the adoption of my private members' Motion No. 89. During the third hour of debate it was amended by the government to read:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should continue to increasingly permit members of the House of Commons to fully represent 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.
Notice it does not specify Private Members' Business. It was adopted unanimously. This was the setting for real change, a committee ably chaired by the member for Kingston and the Islands and a motion advanced by an opposition MP from the Reform Party calling for freer voting adopted unanimously by the House of Commons. This was the hope. Let us look at the reality.
To be fair to the members on the government side, we have seen some change, and one measure I proposed as a private members' bill was the beneficiary of this changed attitude. Bill C-232, a bill to give grandparents right of access to grandchildren, passed through the House a week ago and was sent to the justice committee for study.
The bill had been kicking around Parliament in one form or another for more than 10 years and never came this far. I have a changed attitude towards Private Members' Business to thank for at least getting the bill through second reading and off to committee. Private Members' Business does seem to be one avenue where the government is attempting to make changes.
In my discussions with members opposite regarding whether they would support the bill, I was continuously assured free votes were allowed on private members' bills. It would seem from the number of private members' bills now in committee this is true.
However, this is only the first very tentative step along the way to true freer voting in Parliament. It is almost the government saying when it really does not matter all that much, backbenchers are free to vote as they please. I believe it is time we moved this beyond the first step and started to apply freer voting to government bills as well.
We have had with Bill C-68 first hand experience with punishment being handed out to those on the government side who dared to vote against the party line.
It was the opinion of those involved in the writing of the McGrath report in 1985 and those who sat on the House management committee in 1993 that dissent should be allowed to be expressed without fear of retaliation by the leadership of the political party concerned. Both groups believed the expression of dissent would make the House a healthier place.
I have to endorse that. It would be a healthier place. It would be a place where members who felt very strongly about an issue would not have to vote the party line and could do so without fear of retribution.
What happened? We need only to look at the voting patterns in other Parliaments similar to ours to realize the confidence convention has been relaxed and the sun still rises in the east every day and governments have not crumbled.
Some members in the House on the government side today worked on the McGrath report. What happened? The reality of the day seems to be while in opposition they protest loudly but when the people of Canada give the opposition a mandate to do everything it promised to do, suddenly it is no longer the champion of democracy.
As my fellow Reform member for Calgary North reminded us all earlier, democracy has to be looked after. It has to be protected. Sadly in the House we do not have rule by the people, we have rule by the party. She was quite right.
It appears party discipline is as strong as ever. When constituents clearly tell their MP how they feel on an issue that MP is not allowed to vote to represent a democracy. Rather, he or she is punished if they have the intestinal fortitude to rise in the House and truly represent their constituents, just for keeping their promises to their constituents.
Something is wrong. We have 295 MPs but we do not have democracy. It is a sign of strength to allow dissent to be expressed. It is not a sign of weakness or of weak leadership.
Professor Philip Morton, an academic in Great Britain who has devoted a great deal of study to this issue of freer voting or cross-party voting, has concluded this phenomenon, as he calls it, has led to a growing awareness of what can be achieved by such action by backbenchers. The lack of retribution or punishment of members who vote against the party line in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand has produced a change in attitude on the part of many MPs as they now felt their views mattered and they were really participating in the policy process.
The process had been expanded beyond the cabinet table. I say to those like Professor Robert Jackson of Carleton University who oppose freer voting on the grounds they would lead to chaos, nonsense. We are not advocating free votes on every piece of legislation. We are simply advocating limited expressions of dissent from the party line be allowed to take place without fear of repercussions from the party leadership.
What happened in the House recently on Bill C-68 showed us very clearly on the government side-and let us be honest and truthful about this-it is not a fact yet. It is something I hope will come in the House but at this time it is not a fact that members of the government can vote according to the wishes of their constituents without severe repercussions. That is a sad state of affairs.
All this bickering back and forth, all these smart, snide remarks will not change the facts or the truth. Let us stop with the silliness and start dealing with the truth. It is a fact that happened in the House.
I spent many years teaching and I tried to tell students one thing. When one debates one does not make smart cracks or snide remarks to people; one deals with facts. When students debated in competition in British Columbia, which is the only experience I have to go on, judges and their peers sat in the back row. If a student were to ever make a point without fact there was a stroke right across the card. That student was never able to win in points on debate. I am really sorry because I thought when we reached this level we would see people really using wisdom and experience.
I have seen some excellent debaters in the House. I am always so sorry when I see this cheap shot being taken. I hope we can start remembering to treat each other more with respect in the House and debate as the House is worthy.
We would like to see the intent of Motion No. 89 adopted unanimously by the House to be applied to government bills. I also congratulate those on the other side who voted against the party line on Bill C-68, but definitely not because they went against the party line. They allowed the wishes of their constituents to be expressed in Parliament at great personal risk to their political futures. They are to be congratulated, not condemned. They should remember they can always find an ideological home right here. I think we still have some spare seats.
Moving on to other aspects of reform, committees, two in particular, have been allowed to draft bills. One bill deals with electoral boundaries and the other with lobbying.
We on this side are concerned that at least with regard to the lobbying bill it was ultimately drafted to corresponded with instructions from either the Prime Minister's office or the privy council office. However, it seems we have made a start in this area, albeit tentative, and we should do much more with regard to committees drafting legislation. No one knows better than I how much time the drafting of legislation takes and then securing support for the legislation, but we owe it to our constituents to take this time.
Will legislation be coming forward to allow for referendums to be of help on moral issues such as physician assisted suicide? What about the recall of members of Parliament who are not doing their jobs? What about legislation to provide for citizens initiatives?
I hope I am not wrong, but I believe to effect these changes we will have to change places with the political party opposite.