Mr. Speaker, you have just re-read the motion, therefore I will not do that. In essence, this motion today by the official opposition is a necessary motion and I will explain why.
First of all, I will explain why we need to debate it. I will argue that Canadians support this motion. I will argue that allowing members to put flags on their desks is a positive, beneficial change in this House of Commons. Then I will argue that it is the members of this House who must give direction to the House and to the Speaker, which we will do during today's debate.
I will also argue that this is, first of all, the very best way to put this issue to rest once and for all. I know other members think we should send it to committee, that that is the best way to look at it and so on.
We all know what happens in committee. Our victims' bill of rights was sent to committee two years ago. Where is it? No one knows. It is in committee. It reminds me of a little poem that talks about this a little bit. It says:
Oh give me your pity! I'm on a committee Which means that from morning 'till night, We attend and amend, and contend and defend, Without a conclusion in sight.
We confer and concur, We defer and demur, and reiterate all of our thoughts. We revise an agenda with frequent addenda, And consider a load of reports.
We compose and propose, We suppose and oppose, And the points of procedure are fun. But though various notions are brought up as motions, There is terribly little gets done.
We resolve and absolve, But we never dissolve Since it's out of the question for us, To bring our committee to an end like this ditty Which stops with a period—thus.
Committees are not the answer. I think if we asked most Canadians how complex is this issue that we are debating today, is it going to need indepth analysis from experts from around the world? Is it a royal commission that needs to be struck for this? Or is it, which it is, a simple straightforward motion that we have before us today.
The motion is, if we would like to, and I do not want to force anyone in the House, but if we would like to, should we have the right to display a small desk flag during our speeches, during an important occasion? Should we have that right? Yes or no?
There are not going to be any maybe votes tonight. There are not going to be any qualified votes such as “I sort of support it”. It is going to be yes or no. Tonight we will know whether Canadians through their representatives feel we should have that right. I think our position is clear.
We believe that a small flag tastefully displayed is a freedom of expression issue, it is a patriotism issue at times but most of all it is the rights of members of Parliament to express themselves in that way if they so choose. I think Canadians would be fully supportive of this motion. I think it is straightforward. There is nothing unusual about it. It is just a straightforward motion and I think we will see tonight that this is a positive change.
It has been said, to quote Winston Churchill: “To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often”. Do we need changes from time to time in the House of Commons? Yesterday the Speaker said we have never done this before so we cannot do it. As has already been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, when we came here the singing of the national anthem was considered almost preposterous, outrageous. Imagine singing the national anthem in the House of Commons. We now do that. Some people said, you will know Mr. Speaker because I think you were involved in this, that the prayer had been here for a long time, we could not change the prayer. The prayer was changed. Life went on.
When we came here we could not mention the word Senate in this place. We had to talk about the other place and everybody listening on TV said what is he talking about? It is the other place. Now we routinely talk about the Senate, the problems in the Senate, what we would like to change in the Senate, individual senators, whether they are good or bad, and so on. It is routinely done and it is a good change, a positive change.
We talked about asking questions regarding Orders of the Day. When we came here if something was being debated in the House we could not ask a question about it. The Speaker every day or often jump up and say “I think that relates to the Orders of the Day so I am going to rule that out of order”. Everybody said that is what we are talking about, let's ask a question about it. Eventually we got the government to agree that it would be okay to change so we could ask questions about Orders of the Day. Not a big deal, life went on.
When we came here, it was contentious if we had laptop computers on our desks. I do not know if it was a prop or what it was. It was to me confusing sometimes but it is just a laptop computer. If we want to have it on our desk then let us do it.
We not only changed that rule to allow laptops we now have laptops at the clerk's table. It is commonly done, it is a good idea, so let us deal with it and move on.
When we started in 1993 or 1992, certainly before we came here, there was but one flag beside the Speaker's chair and the Speaker came in and said, all on his own, “I want two flags”. He increased the flag population by 100% and he did it because he said he thinks we can change. I do not think it is a bad idea. It looks good on TV to have a flag on either side. It looks good, and I like it, it looks fine. No committee was struck, no debate was entered into. It was just done. The Speaker decided and it was done. Life goes on and I think the Speaker looks great when he stands there on TV with the flags on either side.
Ordinary members of Parliament are not accorded such luxury. When the camera comes around to them there is no sign of the Canadian flag. I have a small pin on my lapel. That is allowed but it cannot be seen on TV.
Over the last couple of weeks we have seen many small flags on the desks. They look just fine. I think they give an idea that we are watching the Canadian Parliament as opposed to the U.S. Congress or something else. They look fine and are tastefully displayed.
Our motion talks about decorum, the proper use of flags. That is what this debate is about, should we have the right to have a flag on our desk if we want. I have already gone through all the changes made over the past few years, most of them on Reform initiatives. They have gone ahead. This is another good initiative. I think if members limit themselves to the motion today, they will in all good faith vote yes tonight. The members must give direction to the House.
Yesterday the Speaker in his ruling said flags are not allowed. However he said if the House would like to give direction on this issue and change that, it could do so. The best way to put this to rest once and for all is to have a vote on it and give that direction to the Speaker. The Speaker asked for it yesterday. He said that if the rules are to be changed it will have to be done that way.
This motion is the way to end the debate on it. After today the decision will be made. The House will give direction to the Speaker. The Speaker as a servant of the House will be expected to follow that wisdom.
As members of this House, the Reform Party strongly believes that we should move ahead with this change. Change is good. As I mentioned earlier in my quote, to change often is even better. If we can have a positive change like this one, let us do it. Let us not send it off to committee to die the slow death of a thousand cuts. Let us just get it over and done with and do it today.
We think this is the way to end a protracted debate. It will be over before we know it. Tonight when the votes are called the decision will be in and it will be over. I only ask that all members think how they are going to respond to their constituents back home, how they are going to argue against it. Again they are not compelled to have a flag. It can be there if they would like to have a flag on their desks, and some members would like that privilege.
We think it is a positive, beneficial change which would allow that freedom of expression we cherish in this place and across the country. Someone said earlier such freedoms could exist in the chamber of commerce but not in the House of Commons.
To strengthen our proposal, I would like to move an amendment that would make it just a little stronger. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the word “should”.
That way the House can speak unequivocally on this issue and tonight it will give that unequivocal direction to the Speaker. We look forward to that later.