Mr. Speaker, it is a little confusing sometimes. After the exciting question period we had today, we kind of wonder whether we are following proper procedure.
What I am going to talk about this afternoon is what is a promise. What is it, really? A promise is sometimes defined as something that one person makes. But I have found during my lifetime that usually if I made a promise there was somebody else involved. The consequences sometimes bore more strongly on the person to whom the promise was made than on me when I made the promise.
There are promises which are made verbally. In my experience I have also made a lot of promises that were signed. When I went to banks to borrow money, to dealerships to buy implements, I usually had to make a promise that if I took delivery of the implement I would also have to pay for it and also service it properly if I wanted a guarantee or warranty on it.
One of the most important promises I made in my life was to a beautiful young girl whom I tried to convince she had no better man to look for than me. That was not so easy. I spent quite a bit of time at that. In the end I did have to sign my name to really fulfil a promise and to convince her that I would do what I promised.
After 35 years, sometimes I do not think I have totally kept my promises because there have been a few harsh words between us, although I promised there would never be because I was the perfect gentlemen and would be the perfect husband.
We sometimes do not quite fulfil our promises. As we have heard over the last couple of days sometimes these promises go back to Scripture. I listened to an interview with Mrs. Billy Graham on the issue of divorce. She had made a promise to her husband, saying that she should stay with him through thick or thin, health and sickness, richness and poverty. She was asked if she ever intended to break that promise, that she would not say with her husband until death did they part. She said: "No, I never thought of reneging on that promise, but a lot of times I have thought of speeding up the process that he would leave me sooner than later".
We do have to honour our promises even if sometimes we do not want to fulfil them in the context that we agreed to.
What does a signed promise mean? A signed promise means that if we do not abide by the contract or the promise, somebody will probably bear some very severe consequences, not just the person who made the promise but the other party to the promise.
I found out early in my life that if I wanted to have credibility it did not really matter whether it was a promise made verbally or a signed promise. In the end it had the same results if I reneged on it or partially fulfilled it. I think one of the most pleasant experiences I had in keeping a promise was to my two youngest grandsons. As it happened, we had been given by our daughter and son-in-law the privilege of looking after the boys for the weekend while they went on a short holiday. Since grandpa wants to impress his grandsons, I made a commitment to take them to McDonald's on Saturday night. This was in the middle of winter and I had forgotten that weather conditions could change drastically from Friday to Saturday.
About 2.30 in the afternoon my wife said "you know, grandpa, I think you will have to break your promise because that storm is just to bad and you cannot take your grandsons out on the road". We had about 12 miles to travel.
When I suggested to my grandsons that there might be a little problem with the weather they found all kinds of excuses to throw at me, saying that it was not that bad outside: "We have been with dad through a lot worse storms than this. You have the old 4x4 and we have the cell phone. There are all kinds of way we can get back and forth".
Finally I realized that I probably could not wiggle out of this promise. At 35 degrees below zero we decided to take the old 4x4 and head 10 miles down the road to McDonald's about six o'clock in the afternoon. There were not many people in that McDonald's. When I walked in with my wife and the two little grandchildren they kind of looked at me as if to say "hey, is this man a little sick? Why is he taking those two little kids out on a night like this?" When I explained to them that I had made a promise, my grandsons looked at me and said "grandpa, he can do it. We'll get home. He can keep that promise".
I was the proudest grandpa that day because I was the only one with two little children there, stupid and foolish as it seemed, but I did keep my promise. I gained a lot of respect from my grandsons, even if I would have rather had it the other way.
Sometimes a broken promise can be very hurtful. To me, it really worked the other way and I gained a lot of respect. It cost me a little extra caution, to drive more carefully and to be a bit more cautious on the road, but we did get home safely and I felt very good about keeping that promise.
When I look at some of the tragedies that we see in the world today where promises were not kept, it is sad to see that we probably do not give enough attention to what a promise is.
In the olden days I heard my dad and my grandfather say that the handshake was a promise and it was a deal and that was enough. Today that does not seem to be true any more. We have to have things legally drawn up and we have to abide by the guidelines.
What has it cost this government to break a number of promises? One of them is the promise of the GST. We have seen that promise broken. We have seen that now it will cost other taxpayers about roughly $1 billion. I do not know how this government is going to face the electorate next time, especially in the west where this $1 billion is going to come from.
The other thing I would like to touch on is the Canadian Wheat Board. We know that this government promised during the election that it would hold a referendum especially on barley marketing. That promise has not been honoured. It may be honoured yet before this Parliament is over, but it has caused a lot of hard feelings. It has more or less developed a lot of tension between different farmers, different families even and different communities.
Is it really worth breaking a promise which creates this tension and distress in the farming community? If I had been the agriculture minister that is one of the first things that I would have honoured, holding a plebiscite. That is what democracy is about. It is to let individuals decide what is best for them in their businesses, in their homes and in their governments.
About a year ago I saw news stories where Mr. Beswick did resign over the friction inside the wheat board on which type of marketing was better. He stated that the bungling of the wheat board had cost barley producers $180 million that year. We can understand why there is friction between farmers and why they would like this to be resolved.
That gives us a small idea not just that the $180 million was gone but that there was confusion and friction in the agriculture community. What did that do to that community? It pitted farmer against farmer. It also pitted business against farmers. When a farmer loses a dollar business loses just as much or more.
I have recently been approached by a number of business people who were very upset that this has gone to the point where some farmers have been charged horrendous penalties through monetary forfeitures. One of the farmers is in jail and it looks like there may be another one in jail very shortly because he is going to refuse to pay some of his fines. I am wondering where it is going to end.
We do not need this type of friction or tension in the community especially today when I see grain prices drifting lower and lower every day.
Why are we debating this issue about promises when I ponder some of the statements that have been made and look at what the four members of Parliament did to establish a task force minority report on the independence of the Chair or the Speaker of the House? I wonder how these four members, at that time being in opposition, could now just ignore what they said.
I would just like to read into the record exactly what was said. This is what they said about the independence of the Chair: "In order to enhance the independence of the Chair and in an effort to reduce the level of partisanship, when the Speaker is from the government party two of the junior Chair officers should be from the opposition so that the four presiding officer positions are shared equally by government and opposition". Further down in the statement they say: "If the Speaker were from the government party, the deputy speaker would be from the opposition, the next officer from the government-", and so forth.
I would say that is a tremendous statement. That goes to show that these four members, while sitting in opposition, were really determined and honest in analysing the partisanship that was happening in Parliament at that time.
I am wondering why it would be so hard to fulfil that little promise today. This promise is not going to cost them anything financially. It is not going to give them any more or less power in
this House. It would only, I would think, supplement their stature in the public that they honoured this small promise that was intimated to be made if they were elected.
I think it was probably important at that time to the government to add this to the appendix of the red book to show that this government wanted to democratize this Parliament the way it should be democratized, that it should be a House where there is equal opportunity, that it should be a House where the guidelines and partisanship were neutral or as neutral as they could hope it to be.
When we look at the debate we have been entering into for the last day and a half, it is astounding that this little promise could create such a partisan debate when I see that there has not been a single member from the Bloc or from the government really supporting this statement that was made in the last Parliament to reinforce the idea that this should be a House, through the Speaker, as impartial as possible.
We can see what it has done in the debate. It has kept us thinking, but the decision that we are going to make tonight will not be one that is going to be beneficial to the House unless something historic happens.
I wonder how the government would feel if the member for Kingston and the Islands decided to honour his commitment through the statement he made when he was in opposition. I wonder what the Liberal government would say if this member for Kingston and the Islands said: "I am going to stick by my statement of four years ago or so, walk the floor and join the Bloc or the Reform to honour the commitment that my nomination as deputy chairman could be held".
I would like to see what the Liberal government would say. That is the way he could honour his commitment. If he made that choice, I am sure not going to say that I would not honour his intentions. He could sit as an independent. He could join one of the other parties. That is the way this member could stay true to his commitment of four years ago.
It would be a tremendous credit to the House if this member fulfilled that commitment. I would really appreciate it and I think everybody would respect him more for it. It would probably be a pretty strong pill to swallow but I think it would be well accepted. Whether it would be accepted by the government is another issue. I am sure the opposition or the independents in the House would welcome another member on this side.
From what we have heard from the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, he is an honourable member and a very fair member on the committees he has served on. I would love to see this member make that final decision. It would be precedent setting. It would be something this House would remember for perpetuity. I do not think we would run into the situation ever again where that would have to be debated.
He made this commitment before an election and he knew the statement he made was correct; so much more power to the member to fulfil it.
How is this government going to face the electorate in the next election when it cannot keep this one little promise which did not cost this government a single nickel? All it would have done is made this House more democratic. It would have fulfilled some of the promises the Liberals made to be honourable, fair and to treat people equally. It would only be a plus to them.
If I had to go back and campaign on a little broken promise like this, I am sure my electorate would not believe any big promises I made during the campaign. If I was not true to the little promises, the teeny-weeny promises that were costly neither to government nor to opposition, then how would people ever believe me on the bigger promises like the GST, like the referendum on barley marketing, like a few others I should mention? I do not want to create too much hostility on the other side. At that point we could run into another lively debate like we had during the question and answer period.
I enjoy listening to the comments from members on the other side because I know they will try to distort the issues somewhat and there will be some political rhetoric. I can deal with a little of it but when it gets too thick and too foggy then at times it becomes difficult to sit quietly and seal my lips.
We know today that we cannot even dare blow a kiss to opposition members. They get too excited. It irritates them. I would not want to cause a riot in the House just because of a few comments I might make.
I would really like to see how some of the members on the other side are going to deal with the issue of breaking the promise to make the Speaker impartial and to make the Speaker as effective as possible in the House when they have not even tried to accomplish that in the vice-chairmanship of all the standing committees. We have seen how democracy operates there. We see the whip walking into the room, counting the heads and identifying the people who might all of a sudden vote against the government.
We have seen it happen a number of times that when someone voted against government policy they were demoted, taken off the committee and replaced by somebody else. I find it very hard to believe that is democracy. It is not keeping the promise to make the procedures of the House more democratic and to have more free votes.
I wonder what the electorate will say in the next election, especially after some of the comments made in question period today about the way the government is trying to divert attention from the real issues. We are being called extremists. The government is reneging on a little promise to make the Chair more
impartial. How can we be the extremists? The extremism comes from the other side. That little democracy which could help the House-