It has now been acknowledged that it does not say official, it says opposition party. To apply some common sense, if Reform has 52 members and the Bloc Quebecois has 52 members, somewhere along the line out of 27 standing committees just one of the vice-chairs should be a member of the Reform Party. That does not happen. Not one committee has a Reform Party member as a vice-chair. The Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois have the same number of seats. We have never had that.
We may have negotiated away one or two vice-chairs in October 1993, and I do acknowledge that did happen, but the Bloc members then had 54 members and we only had 52 members.
The House has been prorogued, now it is back and all new members and new chairs have been assigned. Some parliamentary secretaries were fired, chairmen of standing committees were fired so new ones were needed. That has been done and all new members were assigned.
In those standing committees now vice-chairs are supposed to be picked. There is a procedure to follow. The same procedure was followed as the first time around. They did not have any kind of duly conducted election that allowed members of both opposition parties because when it gets to committee we are not talking now about official opposition and third party, we are talking about opposition parties. It just so happened that all the vice-chairs went to the Bloc Quebecois again.
In defence of this the chief government whip, and boy does he ever change his mind when he is in government from when he was in opposition. Witness his defence of Motion No. M-1 that is also being debating today and how he flip-flopped on that issue. Now all of a sudden it is democratic to do that.
He is arguing that what the government is doing in naming all of the Bloc members as vice-chairs is democratic and is based on tradition. Tradition says opposition. That does not mean official opposition. If tradition says whoever is official opposition gets all the vice-chairs, fine, but we are now tied.
The Bloc has been named by the Speaker as the official opposition but in standing committees we have 52 members, they have 52 members. Why would the chief government whip not concede or consent, in the spirit of fairness, in the application of common sense, that maybe one or two Reform Party members be vice-chairs. There is precedence for this.
I do not know if my colleague, the current whip, has mentioned this but a member of the third party was a vice-chair in a standing committee of human rights and status of disabled persons on May 29, 1991. There are lots of examples where members other than the official opposition were vice-chairs. The chief government whip's assertion that they are just following tradition is faulty at best.
In the history of this country it has never been so crucial that we have some people representing the interests of all of Canada. If the Reform Party cannot be the official opposition, that is fine because of numbers and incumbency, but at least in standing committees perhaps Reformers could have a couple of vice-chairs. That would make sure the interests of all Canadians are being looked after, not just those interests that the separatist party of Quebec now represents. They would be only dealing with those issues, only trying to get those witnesses, only asking those questions which help to tear this country apart, not to hold it together. They are only interested
in showing that it is in their best interests to break away from Canada and to break up this country. Because it is not traditional to have this kind of a quirk in parliamentary history, we have a party sent to Ottawa from a region that is unhappy with the intrusion into their lives by the federal government, and justly so. In fact they are so unhappy that they sent a lot of them here to send this government a message. The message is: Do something about our problem. Do something to protect our interests.
That is no different from the Reform Party where the majority, with the exception of one lone Reformer from Ontario, my colleague who sits beside me, are all from the west. We were sent here to send a strong message to the federal government that it has intruded into our lives and that we want changes.
This is all about change. It is also all about change in the standing committees. It is about time that some of the government members grew up and applied a little common sense and fairness to this whole business. They cannot continue to believe in one thing and say another. I do not believe they can be in opposition and say that they believe in one thing-for instance, about reintroducing government bills after prorogation and the hue and cry that they set out here when they were in opposition-and then go over to the other side and say it is okay. At which point were they right? Are they right now and wrong when they were in opposition or are they wrong now and right when they were in opposition?
I state unequivocally that it is wrong when two opposition parties are tied, each having 52 members, that one party gets all the vice-chairs and the other party gets none. There has to be something wrong with that. Somebody coming from the outside who knows very little about it would say: "What are the rules? How come the Reform Party has none?"
The Prime Minister has even said that he would like to see more balance in the House of Commons. As a matter of fact when I first looked into what the Liberal members said when they were in opposition they also held the view, Mr. Speaker, that in the position that you are in right now that the Speaker should come from the government, duly elected, unlike what the House leader for the Bloc said. It should be by secret ballot, which is very democratic. The Deputy Speaker should be from the government side and perhaps an assistant deputy speaker should be from the government side. However they also maintain, and there is a paper to this effect that some cabinet ministers and Liberal members have written and believe in, that the other two speakers, deputy or assistant deputy speakers should be, guess what, from the opposition parties. That is what they said in opposition.
It is now two and a half years later in the second session of the 35th Parliament. The House has prorogued and come back. The
Liberals had their second opportunity, their second chance to get it right. This is their second chance to keep the promises they made, the systemic changes they put in their red book. It is in the red book where they talk about giving more recognition to the opposition parties in Parliament. Do you know why they said that, Mr. Speaker? Because they sat on this side of the House for eight years. They were frustrated by closure. They were frustrated by time allocation. They were frustrated by how they were assigned vice-chairs and how they did things. They were frustrated by who got to sit in that chair to monitor proceedings and to make sure the rules were followed.
They made all these promises to the Canadian public and they have not kept one. On democratic reform they have not kept one of their promises.
Perhaps I should write the Prime Minister a letter on the red book and ask him where he stands on these promises. Where does the Prime Minister stand on these promises he made of changes in the House and in the deputy chairs?
What I feel as a member of Parliament is very unfortunate. There is no way that we can hold the government accountable for the promises it made until the next election. It seems to me that the Prime Minister is proud of that. It seems to me that the Prime Minister is happy that he has all this time to not keep those promises, to renege on those promises.
He will not get another chance now to fulfil the promise he made on how we should be operating the Speakers in the chair and how two of them should be from the opposition parties. He will not get another chance to keep those promises that he would protect the civil service, yet 45,000 of them were let go.
When people make promises, when they say that this is what they plan to do, will do, given the opportunity to do it should they not do it? Should people not follow through on their promises?
Here we are with two opposition parties equal in the number of seats yet in standing committees, each and every one of them belongs to one party. Had the ruling been the other way, had the Speaker ruled that the Reform Party was now the official opposition, does anyone think for a minute that we would have asked for every vice-chair in the committees? The Bloc would have had some vice-chairs.
The irony is that here we have an important standing committee like public accounts where there are audits and reviews of the government expenditures. The auditor general submits a lot of work to that committee. I must admit right now that the member who represents the Bloc was the chair of that standing committee
and he did a fine job. He was an excellent chair of that committee. I am not picking on him as an individual. I want to make that very clear.
Having said that, I do not believe that in the public accounts committee the chair should go to a member of a party that has the equal number of seats as another party but which only represents a small regional, specific interest which is to take a part of the country out of this democracy, out of the union. I object to that. That is one area where the Reform could have been chair. Once again, the chair of that committee has done an excellent job. He was a good chair. That is not my point. I want to make that perfectly clear, because I do not want to hurt anybody's feelings.
The feelings I want to hurt are the Prime Minister's and those of the chief government whip because of the promises they made. They are the ones who are breaking their promises. They are the ones who are operating this House in a dictatorial fashion. Even the backbenchers cannot say anything. Government backbenchers cannot criticize the government. We see what happens to those members. They are left out; they are shoved out; they are put out.
That is not the way democracy should work. How can it ever hurt to have a few people who want to have a flat tax, to have a few people who want to get rid of the GST, to have a few people who want to protect the civil service? How can it possibly hurt when the government has the majority of members? It cannot.
To summarize, the tradition of the committee election process needs review. This whole issue should be reviewed by the procedure and House affairs committee. We have had filibusters in the past two years. In the year that I was the whip for this party I had to attend some fiascos in some of the standing committees.
Autocracy and heavy handedness was used by some of the chairmen from the government side, probably through ignorance because they did not know the rules. Nevertheless, they treated all members with disdain, just appointing and going through the election process without a concern. I was there. The chief government whip walked into the meeting and would say that this person would be the vice-chair: Bloc, vice-chair; Bloc, vice-chair; Bloc, vice-chair; Bloc, vice-chair; 23 times.
That is not a process whereby members of the standing committee are empowered to elect their chair and vice-chair. We know who should be chair; that is not a problem. But we could have had a couple of elections for vice-chair. We never had a serious one to put a member of the Reform Party there and we are now tied. It did not happen. It was all a sham and a scam.
No matter what the chief government whip tries to say to defend this, he knows what he told his people. The chairman of each and every standing committee, with the exception of public accounts, knows what he was told to do. What happened is a distortion of the democratic process. It is unfair now because we do have 52 members, the same as the Bloc.
Yes, the Bloc is the official opposition and it is welcome to the job, but in standing committees we should have a few vice-chairs. That is all we felt we should have. The signal and the sign we wanted to see from the government was that perhaps it was willing to accept the fact that some standing committees could use a vice-chair from the Reform Party. However, Liberal members were told what to do from on high and on high said no. They were not allowed to make vice-chairs of any of the Reform Party members who wanted and who sought to attain that position.
As it turns out, this government is behaving in the worst fashion. It is even worse than the previous government of the eight years before the Liberals took power. With all the things this government when it was in opposition said about the Conservative government and what it attacked the Conservative government about, prime ministerial travel, time allocation, closure, the Tory GST, nothing has changed. Only the faces have changed. We have not changed the system and until that happens, this country will pay a heavy price for it.