House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


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5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to remind members that the Parliament act permits the freedom of individuals and they can all individually vote. No one can tell them how to vote.

The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:

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5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion defeated.

It being six o'clock the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from February 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-250, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Canada Elections Act (confidence votes), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

March 11th, 1997 / 5:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on private member's Bill C-250 which has been presented by my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster. It is an important bill as it reflects on this institution.

The bill ensures that Canadians have a fixed election date every four years. That is unlike the present situation in which the government can decide when an election is to take place. That is a bit like an employee deciding what are his terms of employment. Unfortunately that is a reflection of the fact that we do not live in a democratic country. We live in a system that more closely resembles a medieval fiefdom.

I do not say that lightly. The public would be interested to know that what goes on in the House of Commons bears little resemblance to democracy. This bill, which is a very good bill, ensures that the Canadian public knows when a federal election will take place. It is also an effort to take away the unfair advantage that exists for the Government of Canada. It is an effort to level the playing field and ensure that all members of the House and most important, the public, know when an election will be. The time proposed by my colleague is the third week of October every four years beginning in 1997.

This bill is merely an indication, a small but important effort, to make this House more democratic and more responsive to the needs and the demands of the Canadian public. This House is anything but a democracy.

Every four to five years members are elected from the public with the hope that they will change this country to make it a new and more powerful one. Canadians elect people who are going to represent their wishes and bring forward all the good and exciting

ideas that exist within our nation. Canadians expect those people to present those ideas to the House of Commons in the form of legislation that will address the many problems that affect our country.

Unfortunately every four years the dreams and hopes of the public for a new and stronger nation are dashed. They become nothing but a wistful dream as promises fail to materialize and expectations are dashed. This is an unfortunate situation. It reflects the fact that the problem is not with the members who are elected to the House. Regardless of their political affiliation, members come to the House to do the best they can for their constituents and for the nation. Unfortunately they come into a system, a House of Commons, that is not democratic and that prevents them from doing the best that they can for the country and for their constituents.

What they see is not a House of Commons but a house of illusions. They come to a House where power is centred in a very small number of hands: a few cabinet ministers, a few bureaucrats and a few people in the Prime Minister's office and the Prime Minister. It is a highly pyramidal structure where these people control the legislation, they dictate what happens in the country and they do it through a bastardized version of the Westminster system in England. The system we are supposed to have was modelled on the English system. Instead the system has been changed so that power is centred in those very few hands.

Unfortunately these people, through the whip structure, force the members to vote and act like a group of lemmings. That is an entirely unfortunate situation and exists not only within the voting habits of members but exists through committees, through private members' bills and through private members' motions.

We have a great opportunity to capitalize on the great expertise that exists among the members of the House and also in the expertise that exists in the Canadian public, to bring those great ideas forward, to have a vigorous, constructive and aggressive debate and come out with better solutions, better ideas that can be applied to this country's problems. That is the way a democracy should work but we do not have that at all. We have something that is highly undemocratic and operates along the lines of a medieval fiefdom.

In 1993 the Minister of Health, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the newly appointed Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole published a superb document on how to democratize the House. The document was tabled when the government members were in opposition. It mentioned relaxing leadership control. It mentioned making private member's bills votable. It mentioned ensuring that members had as their primary responsibility the role to represent their constituents and that every vote in the House of Commons would not be a vote of non-confidence, that members were able to bring good ideas to the House without fear of being oppressed, without fear of being disciplined by the leadership of a party through the whip structure. They were good ideas.

What happened to them? They were tossed and shelved. When these members came to the House of Commons as members of the government, their ideas went by the wayside and have never been brought forward. It does a disservice not only to members but it does a huge disservice to the Canadian people. It erodes the very morale and fabric of the system of governance and prevents us from truly becoming the great nation that we can become.

Solutions can be put forward. They have been put forward repeatedly. Bill C-250 is one example on how to level the playing field, democratize this institution and make it more responsive to the needs of Canadians.

I would submit that if the government was truly interested in dealing with the problems of the country, if it were truly interested in capitalizing on the expertise in the House and in the Canadian public, then it would do a number of things.

First, the government would pass Bill C-250. Second, it would release members to ensure that they could vote according to what their constituents wanted and not follow along like a group of lemmings according to what the leader and a small elite group wants. Third, it could make all committees completely separate from the ministry so that committees could write legislation. Input into committees from the public would truly be heard and documents that would come out of committee would not have but a day of media attention and then be shelved along with dozens of other committee reports that say much the same thing.

Committees would have the opportunity to truly incorporate the good ideas from the public into legislation that could be brought forth into this House, modified and built into stronger bills.

Right now in committees, unfortunately and tragically, when I sit and hear earnest members of the public coming forward and giving good constructive suggestions, it breaks my heart to see them do this because I know their good suggestions are going to be incorporated into a document that is going to be shelved and forgotten.

One need not look any further than the royal commission on aboriginal affairs that cost $60 million, three years to complete and what do we hear about it? Nothing. It is tossed on a shelf.

When I was a member of the health committee, the health committee was trying to decide what to study. It ignored all the top 20 suggestions members put forward and was contemplating studying aboriginal health.

Rosemarie Kuptana, head of the Inuit Tapirisat, came in front of the committee, put forth a load of documents on the desk and said:

"If all you want to do is study us, forget it. We want action. I have a whole garage full of documents just like this of studies on us".

What did the committee on health do? It decided to study aboriginal mental health while the royal commission was taking place. This is not an isolated incident but occurs repeatedly in this House.

Unfortunately members feel coward to do anything about it because they fear the leadership. The leadership rules over them with an iron fist and tells them what to say and what to do. If they do not do that, they will be disciplined.

It makes the institution highly unresponsive to the needs, wishes and desires of our country and our people. Also, it is a huge affront to the members who sit in this House.

I will close by saying one last thing. We have a great opportunity in this nation to truly make our country strong. Before we do that, we have to make Parliament strong. If we are going to do that, we must truly make it a democracy.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this private member's bill. Bill C-250 would set fixed dates for a federal election and byelections in Canada.

This would indeed be a major and significant departure from the current regime under which elections are called, a regime which, I might add, has evolved over several hundreds of years of parliamentary practice.

The practice is for the Prime Minister to select what he regards as a precipitous time for an election and to advise the governor general to dissolve the House in time for that election.

In the normal situation, the Prime Minister still has the confidence of the House. He is simply seeking an earlier renewal of his or her government's mandate than would be provided by the operation of our Constitution, in particular by section 4 of the 1982 amendments.

This provision works consistently with the conventions of our Constitution and provides for a maximum duration of Parliament of five years barring exceptional circumstances such as war or other national crises.

At the core of this regime is this important relationship between the House of Commons and the executive branch of government. I would like to draw the attention of hon. members to the roles that are played by the cabinet, the House of Commons and the Prime Minister in our parliamentary democracy.

Our system cannot be understood solely by examining the written words of our Constitution. It is important to underlie the constitutional conventions that are just as important as the written conventions and our written Constitution in understanding how our system works.

A key constitutional concept is ministerial responsibility. Ministers are individually and collectively responsible to the House of Commons. When we talk about collective responsibility we are in a practical sense referring to the role of cabinet. In discussing this particular private member's bill my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier, has said that the cabinet is ultimately responsible to the House of Commons. The leadership provided by the cabinet is crucial to the work of a parliamentary session. I reiterate that this is within the overall context that Parliament is summoned and dissolved on the advice of the Prime Minister to the governor general, usually after consulting with his or her members of cabinet.

There are ample opportunities for the House of Commons to hold the government accountable, applying the principles of individual or collective ministerial responsibility. This includes the debates of this House, the daily question period, the budget debates, the important work of parliamentary committees and bills and resolutions introduced by private members. Most important, a government cannot hold on to power after it has lost the support of the members of our House of Commons.

My colleague from Ottawa-Vanier has put his finger on another important dimension to the workings of our parliamentary democracy. He has referred to the role of the Prime Minister which he describes as primus inter pares, first among equals. This does not mean that we have a presidential system such as other countries. However, the Prime Minister is able to give direction to the government's policies and to a legislative agenda and to bring about cabinet solidarity, fostering cohesion among caucus members. I believe that this places our Prime Minister in his authority to call a general election in its proper context. It is consistent with the Prime Minister's pivotal leadership role and it reflects the conventions of our constitution on collective responsibility. This has served Canadians well for 130 years.

Under Bill C-250 general elections for the House of Commons would be held ever four years on the third Monday of October. The Prime Minister would not seek dissolution of Parliament by the governor general except on a motion of non-confidence. A similar regime would apply to byelections which would be held if necessary.

My colleagues on the opposite side of the House have put forward a number of arguments in support of fixed date elections. Among the benefits they see flowing from Bill C-50 are fairness, accountability, greater certainty and cost savings. We have also heard criticisms about the current regime for calling byelections, that the period between a vacancy being created and the calling of a byelection is either too long, detrimentally affecting constituents or too short and favouring the re-election of a member.

It is important to draw the House's attention to the Lortie commission report. None of these arguments that my hon. colleague has presented is new. In fact, as my hon. colleague will

know, the Lortie royal commission on party financing and electoral reform heard and considered these arguments in 1990 and in 1991.

The Lortie commission pointed to several drawbacks which it felt were persuasive. The Lortie commission did not recommend adoption of a fixed date system as has been represented in Bill C-250. It did not do that for a number of reasons.

First, the commission was not convinced that a system of fixed date elections would remove the advantage of the governing party in being able to call an election at a time most favourable to its political interests. Any governing party could still take steps to engineer its own defeat in the House at any time and force a general election.

The other concern that the commission expressed was that fixed date elections might lead to a lengthy and in fact more costly election campaign. Certainly the experience in the United States with fixed date elections and longer campaign periods is a very good case in point for us in this Chamber.

The commission referred to the rising costs of the United States presidential elections, which are often launched 18 months or more before an election date.

The Lortie commission also found some precedents for fixed term approaches to elections. However, it is most important to underline the clear pattern that was uncovered. For the most part, fixed terms are a feature of congressional or presidential systems. We are all familiar with the United States precedent. While not uncommon in democracies, fixed terms appear to be quite rare in parliamentary democracies.

As noted, we do not have a system of strict separation of legislative and executive functions as we find in systems such as that of the United States.

The commission also referred to many of the points outlined on the role of the House of Commons in holding the executive accountable and in ensuring the confidence of the executive is continued. It referred to the role of the Prime Minister and the importance of the constitutional conventions pertaining to the dissolution of the House.

It also referred to the maintenance of the authority of the Prime Minister and the maintenance of caucus loyalty. As the commission noted, elimination of that convention could adversely affect the role and responsibilities of the Prime Minister and disrupt the balance between the executive and the elected legislature.

In my view, it is prudent that we maintain a system that has served Canadians well for hundreds of years.

With respect to the argument that fixed date elections would lead to a more representative government, let me say that I do not view this as-

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. parliamentary secretary's time has expired.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure this evening to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-250. The bill was introduced by the hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster.

It is a very interesting bill, in that it provides that general elections would from now on be held on a set date. The date suggested by the hon. member in the bill is the third Monday in October.

Consider the current situation. Right now, we know our Prime Minister is considering whether it would be opportune to call an election in the months or even weeks to come. In fact, people were wondering last fall whether a snap election would be called.

I suppose the Prime Minister checks his thermometer of public opinion and looks at the temperature. Right now, he is probably saying that the temperature in Quebec is not very favourable for the Liberal Party. When he looks at British Columbia, the temperature is milder.

The question he must ask himself is this: should I wait a few months more, for instance until the fall, because the temperature might go up in Quebec? Or if I wait a few months, will the temperature go down in British Columbia? I am of course referring to the temperature of public opinion.

According to his own line of reasoning, he will probably say that even if he were to wait a few months, the temperature will probably not go up in Quebec, so it is not worth postponing the election. On the other hand, if he waits a few months, maybe the Reform Party will get better organized in British Columbia and maybe the Conservative Party will get some hair on their chest and, finally, the temperature will go down.

So after weighing the pros and cons, the Prime Minister then decides what the best time would be to call an election. I cannot blame the Prime Minister of Canada for using the system to his own advantage and the advantage of his party, the Liberal Party.

But at the same time we should also consider the consequences of this approach. In fact, as we all wait for the Prime Minister to make his decision, we cannot make any definite plans for events

that might take place during the election campaign. For instance, committees that must start on certain studies should remember that they can be interrupted or even cancelled if a general election is called in May or in June for instance.

As for me and my fellow members in this House, we all have to make special arrangements in our ridings because we may not be able to do certain things in May or in June because the Prime Minister might call a general election. In fact, proceeding in this way creates a level of uncertainty that is entirely counterproductive.

For instance, how could a business plan its short, medium and long term operations if, on a whim of its director, it had to interrupt everything to elect a board of directors? In fact, this uncertainty undermines the efficiency of this House and the ability of individual members, committees and the House as such to discharge their responsibilities.

The advantage of the bill before the House today is that it eliminates this uncertainty so that we know in advance when an election will be called and can plan accordingly when scheduling the business of the House, the business of committees and the work done by each member of this House.

At the same time, let us not think that will deprive the Prime Minister and his party of the opportunity to take advantage of the new rules. The government party will also know when the election is going to be called, and can therefore organize its legislative agenda, its various speeches, its press releases, its new policies, so as to best serve its interests, put it in the best light with the public, according to the planned, and known, date of the election.

In fact, what is involved here is not depriving the government of a bunch of advantages this power confers upon them, but rather changing the ground rules so that the harmful effects of the present rules are avoided.

I must admit, I feel a bit uncomfortable speaking in this way on a measure that concerns the Canadian election, when I hope, anticipate, wish with all my heart, that there will be no more Canadian elections in Quebec, for it will have attained sovereignty.

I must admit that, ever since the commissions on the future of Quebec, we in Quebec have been questioning our parliamentary system because, as you all know, it is copied from the one in Ottawa, which is itself a copy of the one in merry old England.

In a sovereign Quebec, why should we preserve a parliamentary system that no doubt had its merits in centuries past but, as we approach a new century, seems particularly ill equipped to cope with new challenges, to represent this living democracy which is constantly evolving, to ensure that it is closer to the people, who will be increasingly aware of current events, to govern a population that is very much attuned to all of the social, cultural and economic dimensions involved on the floor of this House?

A new parliamentarism is therefore required, a reinvented system, a system that will be transparent to the public, which will foster their confidence through understanding. This is what the sovereign Quebec of tomorrow must be contemplating today. The restricted, yet brilliant, version of this same debate I find here in this House this evening cannot help but elicit my consent.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the bill put forward by the member for Kindersley-Lloydminister. Bill C-250 deals with fixed election terms, a fixed date of four years for Canadian elections.

I would like to address our current system because it is extremely skewed. The Prime Minister and only the Prime Minister is the person who calls the date. Sometimes I am sure even he does not know. It appears to be the case these days. However it skews the system.

The Liberals who happen to be in power this time, or the Conservatives who were in power before them, know when they want to call the election. They look at the polls. If they are high in the polls and things are looking fine, they call an election. However, if it is the reverse as the Liberals are seeing these days and they are on a bit of a slide, the chances are they might not call it right away. They will look at the polls and suggest perhaps putting forward a few bills or a feel good budget such as the one from the Minister of Finance last month.

This is the kind of politics Canadians do not need. We need to have a level playing field. We need to know when the next election will be. The Prime Minister could call a snap election if the polls are right for the Liberal Party. He could delay it if the polls are not right for the Liberal Party.

The bill is about accountability and democracy. It is not democratic. The system is skewed. It is not accountable. When the Prime Minister calls an election he is not accountable to Canadians but to the Liberal Party, which is absolutely wrong.

The Liberal member who spoke before me said that the Canadian system was the way it should be and that other countries did not have fixed dates. I remind him that the fixed term was established in England in 1694. Successive parliaments in England differed in the length of term but the fixed term stayed. The New Zealand Constitution Act, 1852, followed that tradition fixing the maximum life of Parliament at five years. In 1875 it was reduced to three years but still the date was fixed.

Our American neighbours have as their election date the first Tuesday of November. Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years, members of the Senate every six years

and presidents every four years. The Americans have been able to live up to these election facts for 210 years. I suggest to my colleague across the way that perhaps he has not been looking in the history books or across the waters. The idea of a fixed election is a trend that goes back hundreds of years. The Canadian system is a system that is out of whack.

What about the time and expense? It is costly when snap elections are called. If we had fixed election dates we could plan for them. We would know exactly when the election would be. All parties including the opposition parties would know what would happen.

Some will say that this is just the Reform Party whining because it wants to go forward. We are not suggesting that we will be the opposition party all the time. We will be in power. Any opposition party in any parliament needs a level playing field. This is not just for Reform but for the sake of Canada stepping forward.

I also point to some of the red book promises: more accountability in government and a level playing field as we would say. What is happening across the way? The Liberals promised parliamentary reform. What about free votes? Less than an hour ago we saw what free votes were in the House. We were voting on section 745 of the Criminal Code and what did the Liberals do, to a man and a woman? They stood and opposed the motion. If there were free votes in the House I am sure a number of Liberals would like to support the motion. They did not support it because they were told not to support it. That is what we get with free votes.

The House of Commons needs to be democratized. The Senate needs to be democratized. I have to take my chance for a shot at the Senate. Senator Len Marchand from British Columbia is due to retire. British Columbia has an act in place that allows for the election of a senator from British Columbia. The precedent has been set. Senator Stan Waters was elected in Alberta in the mid-eighties. What is stopping it? It is the Prime Minister. British Columbians want to vote for a senator. The act is in place. The premier says he wants it. What happens? The Prime Minister says no. Again it is democracy Liberal style and it simply does not work.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Dark Ages democracy.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

You have it. It really is. My colleague is on the right track. The Liberals are onside on many of the issues. However I suspect they will be told once again to vote in block against the bill. They will be told it is not a good move because it is not a good move for Canada. It is not a good move for them because it is not a good move for the Liberals.

I support my colleague. A four-year fixed election date is the way to go.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to say how much I value being able to speak to the private member's bill introduced by my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster on an important point of public policy.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, and as Canadians who are watching this debate will know, private members are able under our rules to introduce bills and motions to put forward items of public policy which are not being dealt with by the government of the day.

This whole area of further democratization of our democratic institutions is one in which the Liberals, as typical of them, made a big fuss before the election. They put forward all kinds of nice sounding proposals for democratizing the system, but when they were actually in charge, they suddenly got cold feet and have done little or nothing to move in the direction for which they so ardently argued before the election.

I would like to assure Canadians that the Reform policies have been to democratize the institutions of government and voting procedures. Since its inception we have been committed to those and have drafted legislation already to bring that about. We will be introducing that as soon as we become the government. This is one of the bills which we will be introducing.

A number of arguments have been put forward for and against the whole idea of fixed election dates. I would like to discuss in the few minutes I have the arguments against or the disadvantages which are cited by opponents of fixed election dates. I will just go through with Canadians some of the reasons why we do not find those arguments at all persuasive.

The Liberal member opposite who spoke earlier in this debate this evening suggested that the Lortie commission, a very comprehensive commission on electoral reform which reported recently, did not support fixed elections. In fact that is not the case.

In the summary of the commission it was stated: "The argument for holding federal elections on a fixed date was mainly that it would make it easier to administer and organize elections as well as provide for better enumeration. One or two interveners suggested that the fixed date was also more democratic because it removed the ability of the party in power to call an election at the most favourable time".

The report did not deal with the issue of fixed election dates except to observe that it had come up and there were arguments for and against. By citing some of the arguments that were brought forward to the commission against fixed election dates and suggesting that it was the conclusion of the commission is misleading. I wanted to put on the record that the Lortie commission did not come out either for or against fixed election dates.

About eight main arguments have been advanced against fixed term elections. These were mostly put forward in a document which was put together by Eugene Forsey and another individual. It is a well written and interesting document with a lot of humour in it, but the conclusions are flawed. I would like to tell the House why.

Four arguments of those eight dealt with a situation where the argument was that fixed election dates would preclude a non-confidence motion which might dissolve the government earlier. Of course for those who have been following this debate they will know that my colleague's bill continues to allow for the contingency of the House adopting a non-confidence motion and also allows the House, by the way, to continue sitting past the fixed election date in case of war, invasion or insurrection as is allowed for in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The arguments which would suggest that the members of the House would not be able to cause the dissolution of the government for a lack of confidence in the government are not valid. They are clearly dealt with in my colleague's bill.

There are four other arguments, however, that I would like to deal with quickly. One is that fixed election dates would make it harder than at present to get rid of an unpopular government between elections, partly I suppose, because of the presumption that there could not be a motion of non-confidence. I have just pointed out that is not true under this bill. Also, governments would not have quite the same pressure put on them because of the fixed election dates.

I would suggest that unpopular governments in our democracy can hang on even past the five-year period under the Constitution. The more unpopular a government is, the more tenaciously it clings to power and avoids calling a vote. I would think that fixed election dates would at least give us some certainty that we could boot the rascals out, rather than having to wait for them to finally do the noble thing and call an election at the last possible second.

The second argument is that there are circumstances where a government needs to or wants to be able to go to the people with an election on a major issue like free trade and if it somehow could not get the will of the people on a major issue, there would be an impasse.

I am very happy to say that I, personally, have solved that problem for the people who brought up this objection. I have tabled a private members' bill to amend the Referendum Act to permit questions to be put before the Canadian public at the initiative of any government or at the initiative of the people on major public issues. An election would not need to be called. Legislation has been tabled both by myself and also by my colleague from Vancouver North to allow referendums to be used. That argument falls by the wayside as well.

The third argument is that the calling of an election is an important and a legitimate tool for a government. The threat of dissolution allows governments to keep their members in line and the opposition off balance. If that is the best argument against fixed election dates that we can come up with, shame on us. In fact, in a democracy there should be no possible reason that the executive part of government can threaten their backbenchers with dissolution and keep them in line with those kind of threats and keep the opposition off balance.

It is very clear that governments have almost every advantage on their side. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that they would be penalized by not having this advantage.

The last reason is that there is a mistaken notion that governments are elected. Governments, in fact, are appointed. They are responsible to the House of Commons and elections are only about individuals who serve in the House of Commons. Out of those individuals, a government is appointed, presumably by the crown. That is total nonsense.

When people vote, they vote for the party that they wish to have govern. There is absolutely no presumption or expectation on the part of Canadians that they are going to elect x number of members. Somehow there is a big question about who is going to be the government. Every reason that I have seen against fixed election dates simply do not hold water. It is not even difficult to refute them. It is incredibly easy.

To end my remarks, I would like to quote from an article written last month by columnist Andrew Coyne in the Montreal Gazette . He said: ``Canada is one of the few democracies that still leaves it up to the government of the day to decide when elections should be called, a decision in which the government has an evident conflict of interest. Incumbency has advantage enough without forcing opposition parties to start the race off on one foot.

"The innocent might imagine an election to be the occasion for the people to choose a government. In Canada, the government chooses the people at the moment calculated to find them in the most forgiving mood. The only real change with fixed election dates would be to remove from the government the power it now possesses to trigger elections at whatever time is most advantageous to its own electoral prospects.

"This is hardly incompatible with parliamentary government. It is incompatible only with parliamentary dictatorship as we have known it in Canada".

I strongly urge members of the House to support this very sensible bill by my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into the debate. I came here as a Reformer with a very high interest in reforming Parliament. The people of Elk Island, particularly the people in the west where I grew up and where I have lived all my life, gave a very strong message that Parliament had to be made to work in favour of the people who elected us.

I take a great deal of pleasure standing in support of the private member's bill put forward by my colleague. It is another way of holding the government accountable. It is another way of returning power to the people instead of vesting in their government between elections.

This is part of a larger problem as I see it. I am distressed by the fact that over and over we see the exercise of power by a very few people in Parliament. It has already been alluded to but I was particularly distressed this evening during the vote.

Parliamentary rules prevent me from talking about a vote that has been held so I will not break that rule, but I will simply comment on the fact that over and over we see members of the government voting on command. I can scarcely believe that on each and every issue there is always 100 per cent agreement with what the government whip says. If that is the case I am very surprised.

I would like to see true freedom in Parliament and an end to the manipulation that takes place by the Prime Minister and by ministers of the crown as they operate and as they run through a vote.

I would like to come to the issue we are dealing with this evening, the proposition that people should actually be able to plan ahead the time of a federal election being held.

I am new to the political world. I worked as an instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. From the time of my nomination in 1992 until the election was finally called for the fall of 1993 I lived in uncertainty for some 16 or 17 months. I did not know whether I should tell my employer and my students that they would have the continuity of the instruction I was offering until the end of the semester or until the end of the year. I was unable to plan financially and unable to plan in terms of scheduling my career and my life.

I was very supportive at that time of the plank in Reform Party policy that elections should be held periodically at predetermined dates. I do not like the words fixed elections because there is an implication that the outcome of the election is predetermined rather than the date of the election. We need to distinguish between those words.

Why can we not say to the people that the government will govern in a democratic way by going to the people for that accountability session? I have heard parliamentarians refer to it as the ultimate accountability session. We go to the electors and ask whether on the basis of our record they will elect us again That is the strength of democracy. There is no reason in the world we cannot do that at predetermined dates with some regularity. The only exception would be if there were a time of real national emergency.

I have a great deal of support for democratizing Parliament, the House of Commons, this place where Canadians expect their aspirations to be reflected. Canadians expect to have their desires fulfilled in terms of the rules that are developed which control our lives and the way our money is spent.

These parliamentary reforms are absolutely necessary. The faster we can get on with them, the better. It is a shame that we go on and on, I was going to say from century to century, but we are not quite that old as a country yet. We keep moving along and there is hardly ever a mind for change, a change for betterment, a change for a more true democracy.

It is a matter of considerable urgency, particularly because of the issues that face us. We need to ensure that the electors of this country are given the opportunity to elect a fair and an honest government, a government that will represent their aspirations and will neither run behind them nor ahead of them.

We have large issues in this country, the debt, the national unity question, the whole matter of our justice system and its inability to respond to the needs of Canadians, yet we find in this Parliament, over and over again, a mechanism which does not permit true change to take place. The mechanism is lacking to actually balance the budget. All of these things tie together when we think of the way Parliament works.

It is my delight to stand to urge parliamentarians to exercise their right, as provided under the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act, that no one should be able to control their vote. When it comes time to vote on this bill, I hope they will vote right, not just as they are told. They should think about it individually and represent their constituents. The constituents elected us. They should do what is best for them, not what is best for one party. They should not simply be trying to prolong their time in power. It is not acceptable any longer for governments to be in power, lording it over the people, ignoring their wishes, going on an on and then trying to manipulate the vote by so carefully choosing the time when the election is to be held.

When the time comes to vote I am going to be watching to ensure that members other than Reformers will be voting according to what is right, according to the actual item of debate.

Let us support this bill not because it was introduced by a member of the Reform Party but because it is long overdue. It is a bill which is needed in order to improve our democratic systems.

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill tonight and to endorse it wholeheartedly. I have done so in the past in committee and it is a pleasure to talk about it here in public in order to get the words into Hansard and to get my official endorsement on the record. It is not that it varies from my co-workers in the Reform Party-

Parliament Of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, the time for Private Members' Business has expired. The hon. member will have the floor the next time the House resumes debate on this issue.

The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Parliament Of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday I asked the Minister of Agriculture a question in this House about rBST.

This, as you know, is the famous hormone that can be injected into a cow and increase its milk production by 10, 15 and sometimes 25 per cent. It becomes a bionic cow, or close to it.

Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry has put several hundreds of millions of dollars into developing this miracle hormone. However, there is uncertainty about the effect of this hormone on cows, as well as on consumers of the milk they produce.

I reminded the hon. Minister of Agriculture that on at least three occasions customs officers had stopped farmers or dishonest individuals importing this well known hormone, the production, importation and use of which in Canada is prohibited.

One customs officer, quite by chance, asked that the back trunk of a vehicle full of syringes containing bovine somatotropin be opened. If it is like drugs, a seizure does not even represent 1 per cent of what is imported into and consumed in Canada. If the same ratio is applied to somatotropin, it can be assumed that we now run the risk in Canada of drinking, without knowing it, milk produced by bionic cows.

I asked the minister what he intended to do to correct the situation. He merely answered that it is up to customs officers to do their job, and that he hopes they are doing it well. That is a reply that I unfortunately could not accept, coming from the mouth of the Minister of Agriculture himself.

In addition, since we are now into another year of analysis, there is a moratorium on the use of this famous hormone. The department, the government, is undoubtedly being worked on by lobbyists representing Monsanto, for instance, the pharmaceutical company that developed this hormone, because there is a fortune associated with the sale of somatotropin in Canada.

I therefore call on the government, and I will conclude with this, to hold a public debate on the use of this hormone. It would be a debate in which consumers, as well as producers, processors, and producers of somatotropin, in other words the pharmaceutical industry, would be invited to present their views.

The government has no right to impose this product on Canada, especially to protect public health. It has just passed an anti-smoking bill supposedly to protect public health. I therefore hope that this government, which is so concerned about the well-being and health of our children, will hold a public debate into whether somatotropin should be used, produced and sold.

Parliament Of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario


Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for the question.

Health Canada has indicated that in its estimation milk and dairy products from cows treated with rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin, pose no human health hazards. However, it continues to review the product for animal safety and efficacy reasons and has not yet made a decision regarding licensing in Canada. Hence, commercial and personal importations of rBST into Canada are prohibited.

Revenue Canada's customs officials have been most diligent in controlling the illegal importation of unlicensed product into Canada and as a result did intercept three shipments in 1996. Individuals who have imported any product, not just rBST, illegally can be subject to charges by Revenue Canada. As evidence of this continuing diligence, an updated customs alert was issued in January of this year.

With respect to the question of a debate on the issue of rBST, let me remind everyone that in 1995 the government set a task force in

place to address issues other than health and safety relating to rBST, issues such as the costs and benefits to the Canadian dairy industry as well as the potential impact of animal health and genetics. A study was also commissioned on the relations of the American consumer before and after rBST was licensed for use in the United States. This information was presented to the minister on May 1, 1995 and immediately thereafter to the standing committees of agriculture and health.

As for the future of rBST in Canada, until my hon. colleague, the Minister of Health, makes a decision on whether to licence the product, I shall continue to support the efforts of Health Canada in reviewing the product and we certainly support Revenue Canada for enforcing the regulations that are in place now.

Parliament Of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. The House therefore stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m.

(The House adjourned at 7.12 p.m.)