Mr. Speaker, I would like to confine my comments to three general areas.
First, I would like to speak to the notion of why we are debating this in the first place, rather than the how. Quite a lot of the debate has dealt with the mechanics of how bills are introduced or reintroduced and not a whole lot of thought has been given to why bills are introduced or reintroduced.
Second, I would like to spend a couple of minutes talking about the difference between private members' business and government business and why, in my opinion, private members' business should be treated discretely and differently than government legislation.
Third, I would like to touch on what really should be the power of the government, exactly how encompassing and how overpowering is the power of the government.
I will begin with the third point. Those of us in the Chamber are acutely aware of how this place works, but many Canadians are not. After being elected I came here full of hope, inspiration and with the brightest of lights shining in my eyes. I thought as the member of Parliament representing the people of Edmonton Southwest, I was going to have a say in how the government ran the country. Well, was I surprised. I am sure many Liberal backbenchers found themselves in quite the same state of surprise. As a matter of fact I think some of the cabinet ministers may have been surprised. I am not suggesting that the government is alone. To my knowledge, all governments in Canada run on a premise which is: "How do we go about getting re-elected?" The first objective after being elected is how to get re-elected because power is everything. If one does not have power in politics one might as well be washing floors somewhere because not very much is accomplished. Yes, one can have some influence with luck. That is what private member's business is all about. It is all of the backbenchers on the government and on the opposition sides who are trying to make our country work not a lot better but a little bit better, just incrementally to trying to do something worthwhile.
The path of private members' business through the House to become legislation is laborious and long. There are all kinds of checks and balances. Private members' bills very rarely become law. It is not part of the government agenda.
When the throne speech was read there was not one single word about the government saying: "We know we have 295 people in the House of Commons, most of whom are here for the right reasons: to make our country work better. Therefore, we are going to see what we can do to use private members' business to create legislation".
It has never been that way. If good private members' legislation is introduced very often it is co-opted by the government and we will see it rearing its head again as government legislation. Perhaps that is not all bad. It does not matter. If the legislation is passed it has to go through this process.
However, private members' business is very different from government business. When government puts out an agenda it is its agenda to get re-elected. If that means it is going to do whatever it has to do to meet the requirements of the perceived wants of the
body politic that is what it is going to do. That is why governments change direction from time to time. That is why there are traditionally in a country different opinions of different values represented by different political parties.
In Canada we do not really have that differentiation. The Liberal Party changes its spots to meet whatever the expectations of the body politic are. It has worked successfully for most of our time as a country and it is likely that is the way it is going to be in the future. It does not really matter whether the left and the right or the yin and the yang is met because the country changes political parties or if the political party that is in power changes to meet the demands of the people. That happens. The government has the ability, the authority and the responsibility to bring forward whatever legislation it wants because it has a majority. It will introduce that legislation and that legislation will be passed. Nothing the opposition has to say will change that. Absolutely nothing will change the opinion of the government once it has its mind made up and it has a head of steam.
Therefore, the only possible way that any backbencher from the government side or the opposition side is able to have meaningful input into the affairs of the nation is through private members' business. These bills may be very meaningful or they may be relatively small but they are evidence of the fact that people have been elected who represent their constituents.
I have a vested interest in this debate because I have a private member's bill that made it through committee. If one is playing Snakes and Ladders, that is all the way up to just about the top of one set of ladders. The problem is that when one makes it over the top one is on the downhill slide again which is what happens with House business. When the the House prorogues and all of the business dies on the Order Paper that means all of the private members' business dies as well.
When I first heard that the government was planning on changing legislation to bring back its own business as well as private members' business, my immediate reaction was that we should be careful what we say because whatever is said on this side of the House is likely going to come back to haunt us when we get to the other side of the House. We have stacks and stacks and stacks of words that Liberal members on the government side, most of them cabinet ministers, said when another government tried to do exactly the same thing, that the government business should die and it should be brought back again. If they want to do so they should bring it back starting from square one.
My original reaction was that there is a fair amount of work to go through to get these things done. It goes through the legislative branch of the House of Commons. There is a lot of work to get legislation here. If the government has a majority, it is going to come back sooner or later, why not bring it back sooner rather than later? They are the government. We will do whatever they suggest, so why not just do it?
That brings us to the how and why of this debate and why we are having it in the first place. I think that most people on this side of the House see the reasonableness in the argument that if you are going to bring back legislation, why not bring it back in the way that is the most cost effective and the easiest, leaving aside the fact that the government very probably has absolutely nothing on its platter other than the legislation it had in the last session. We are waiting of course.
The government woke from its great slumber and has decided that national unity is going to find its place on the front burners. The problem is that the government does not have any legislation so let us reintroduce the legislation that was on the books. Fine, but if this is the plan, would it not make sense for the House leaders to get together?
I could spend all kinds of time going through the hypocrisy of the litany of members opposite. They stand on that side of the House and say black is black when on this side of the House we are saying white is white. I know that if I get too far down that road, sooner or later the same thing will happen to me. Imagine what the people who are watching this debate as it unfolds today are thinking.