Mr. Speaker, the purpose of today's debate seems to be the collective release of emotions, group therapy or the promotion of the existing system. As a young member whose experience is not as extensive as that of some of his colleagues, I will nonetheless offer a few suggestions or at least set forth a number of personal observations.
Of course, the purpose of today's debate is not to call the parliamentary system into question. One may not like it, complain about the government, and keep saying that committees do not operate as they should, but it is important to realize one thing: we must work together at enhancing the role of members of Parliament.
There is a price to pay for using British parliamentary rules and that is the fact that the government sits in this House, which is not the case in the American system. There are pros and cons. It only makes sense that when the government—that is the executive branch—sits in this House with the legislative branch, it must have some tools to work with. In politics, we use checks and balances.
I will not start moaning and say that the situation in committees is awful. Oddly enough, things work very well in the agriculture and agri-food committee, on which I sit, and in the official languages committee. We get along, there is no arm-twisting, contrary to what some members may claim, and the ministers do not come and tell us what to do. No, that is not the way we operate. We understand each other and we operate that way.
However, I want to deal with the role of a member of Parliament in the House of Commons. In my opinion, it is important to give a greater role to backbenchers, not only to members of the opposition parties, but also to government members.
Quite often, under the existing procedure on specific issues, there is a draw; we put members' names in a hat, and then there is a draw to determine which member can introduce a private member's bill, but it is a long and frustrating process. I understand that there used to be a fast track procedure in place.
I think that if at least 100 members support one of their colleagues who wants to introduce a private member's bill, this legislation should get priority. If several members representing all parties agree on a given bill and believe there is a consensus, but not necessarily unanimity, I think it would be appropriate to give back more power to the lawmakers.
All this would, of course, take place in the context of how parliament works. Earlier, someone alluded to back room dealings, saying how awful they are. We will not play holier than thou today, because there are some who can play that game really well.
If we asked members how many of them have read all the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, we might be very disappointed. I must candidly admit that I did not read them all. It is by working here that we learn how this place operates.
I remember the late Maurice Bellemare in the National Assembly, who became minister after Maurice Duplessis told him to learn the code of procedure. Those who know how to take advantage of the code of procedure can play a very important role. This is the way we should look at things.
Of course, the role of a member is to be efficient and responsible. However, this can be frustrating at times, especially when one feels that the government is taking too much space. But, as I mentioned earlier, that is the way the British parliamentary system works. We have to accept it and use the procedure to find ways to play a role.
In our system, the legislative and the executive are one. Therefore, to form the government, it takes a majority. A party must have a majority. Thus, Bloc members will always complain because they will never form the government. But one thing is certain: we are so democratic here that we let people say just about anything in the House, and we hear them often. Not only are the Bloc members allowed to say anything they want, but they leave with the furniture. Some are putting together a trousseau and taking the chairs. This is so democratic.
What is certain is that we have an important role to play. We must look into ways to improve operations. Earlier we talked about committees. I believe that when everybody is acting in good faith and interested in making things run smoothly, we can get along.
A case in point is the fisheries and oceans committee, which was supposed to enjoy greater autonomy. If there are people who still say that the government is twisting their arm, I think they should take another look at things, and rethink how it works.
When we listened to the chair, our friend from Newfoundland, it was very clear that he had done his homework. So, what am I saying today? If we all do our homework, if we learn our procedure and how things are supposed to be done, we can achieve our goals.
Now, it is clear that the member, despite everything, may feel undervalued. He feels that way because he sometimes has the impression that, as a backbencher or opposition member, he does not have direct access to certain things, or he feels that the government in power can run the whole show. I must say that I completely disagree. A member who does his work well and learns all the basics can achieve his goals.
Undoubtedly, there are times when we are overloaded. I myself sit on three or four committees. It is clear that we cannot always delve deeper and keep up with everything. That is when it becomes necessary to help each other and to find the best way of doing things.
We have often, however, discussed the issue of how voting takes place.
I must admit that I find it a bit tiresome when one person rises and calls for a recorded vote. As long as we agree to either support or reject a motion, the whip usually says that, with the unanimous consent of the House, the members will vote for or against.
It is clear that a member is not most effective when he must rise each time. Furthermore, it is clear that the whole issue of electronic voting has been the subject of numerous discussions, but sight must not be lost of the role the member plays by taking part. Taking the floor time after time on the same subject, whether on the amendments or something else, is an enormous waste of very precious time. For us, time is precious, and I agree with the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm on that. Our time is valuable, and sometimes there are other things we need to be doing.
Yet again, I am soft-pedalling it here because democracy is what this is all about. Respect for the institutions and traditions has made the country work. Compared to other countries, we probably have one of the best parliamentary systems in the world. That is why we need to be very prudent. We can make some improvements, adjust certain rules, but it is unthinkable to question the entire parliamentary system.
Our viewers must not be given the impression that it is not working, and that some shocking things are going on. On the contrary, I think we can give ourselves good marks. The MPs are doing a good job, and they have the capacity to assume a vital role and to represent their constituents well.
In terms of changes to the standing orders, as I have said, I do not have the experience my colleagues do, as I was elected less than a year ago, but it is clear from all of the debates that have gone on since the beginning, on all manner of subjects, that if MPs had more opportunity on the issue of bills, that might be worthwhile.
If we could enhance the role of members by improving certain aspects of private members' business, that might prove equally worthwhile. As for motions, if a little more time were available, not Friday afternoon or some evening in the week, and if we could address them in “prime time”, as they say, that too might be worthwhile. I believe that in this context changes need to be made.
I am, however, offended that a good system continually in use is still constantly being questioned, so that once again the impression is given that the institution is being devalued. I am therefore calling upon my colleagues to be very prudent. The baby must not be thrown out with the bath water, nor the building demolished just because the roof leaks.
We have a good system and I think we can still do good work, with a proper knowledge of things and perhaps a few small improvements. But, please, let us not devalue the institution.