Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join in this debate this afternoon. Hopefully this debate will move the government to make some much needed changes to the procedures of this place, to the standing orders and to the way in which we conduct business in the House of Commons.
I note that a number of those preceding me in the debate this afternoon referred to private members' business, among other issues. Certainly that is a very important issue for every member, regardless of which party they happen to represent in this place. Whether they are opposition members or government members, private members' business is a very important issue. In fairness, I think even the backbench members on the government side have seen the inherent problems in the process.
On a number of occasions when I have written newspaper columns at home, done interviews and held meetings in consultation with the constituents of Prince George—Peace River I have referred to the lottery system of private members' business. We have to be lucky in order to have our bills chosen. I think this is true of all members, or the vast majority of members. They put a lot of time, effort and thought into drafting their private members' bills. In many cases the bills address a specific need that they see is lacking in legislation. Perhaps it has to do with something specific to their particular riding or their area of the country. They put a lot of time into drafting their private members' bills, introducing them in this place and then they sit and wait, and wait, with the slim hope that they might be fortunate enough to win the lotto 649 and have their name drawn.
Then when they have their name drawn they go to the next step, which unfortunately is to go before a supposedly non-partisan all party committee to plead their case. They go on bended knee after they have been fortunate enough to be one of the ones to have their name drawn. They go before this committee to try to convince it that of the 15 drawn theirs should be one of the 5 that are fortunate enough to have their bill made votable. It is a process that I have been critical of, as I think a great many members have been on both sides of the House.
Reformers are system changers. Those of us who were elected in the first go around back in the fall of 1993 were sent to Ottawa to change the system, to change the way that governance is done in Canada. It is one of the prime reasons for which the people of Prince George—Peace River supported me as a Reform candidate back in 1993. They said “We want you to go down there, Jay, and try to change the system”.
Certainly Reform has been criticized many times over the past four and a half years for running up against the wall, the wall of the old traditional ways, the old system. We are constantly pushing the envelope and saying that we were sent here to change the system.
Yes, there are a lot of traditions that we respect in this place as very loyal, patriotic Canadians, but there are a lot that we question. We say “Just because it has been done that way for 130-some years, does that make it right? Does it make it the most efficient and the most effective way in which to govern a country as large and as diverse as Canada?” There are many areas where change is needed.
We were sent to Ottawa to change the system, to change the way in which Canada is governed. Of course, ever since our party was formed back in 1987 we had our blue book of principles and policies which contain sections about democratic reform. These were things that we felt, in broad consultation with Canadians, should be changed to make parliament more responsive to what I call the real world outside these hallowed halls, the real world in which the vast majority of Canadians live and work each day.
Therefore, this debate today is particularly appropriate for Reformers. We are talking about the standing orders, the procedures, the traditions and certain things that require reform and change.
Hopefully what we viewed yesterday we will not have to view again. A member of this place became so frustrated with the process and felt he was failing his constituents and all Canadians that he resorted to the atrocious stunt of stealing his chair and rushing out of the House of Commons to try to make the point to the government that the system needs some serious changes, that it is in serious need of a major overhaul. We are not talking about tinkering.
I would like to speak briefly to order in council appointments, the system whereby the government makes appointments. This process was widely criticized long before I ever decided to run for politics. I think it is high time we had a different process in place for the appointment of individuals to a lot of these boards.
As the agricultural critic for the official opposition I am very aware of this at the moment. Bill C-4 is currently being debated in the Senate. It has already passed this House. The bill calls for a board of directors to be set up in order to govern the Canadian Wheat Board. Of that board of directors, which will consist of 15 individuals, the government, in its infinite wisdom, only decided to have the farmers elect 10 of them. Five of the directors will continue to be appointed.
I think a lot of my colleagues, as well as myself, hear a growing resentment from Canadians about a lot of these appointments as we travel in our ridings and across Canada. I could run down a long list of some of the ones who are the most questionable, individuals who have been appointed to particular boards, many of them very highly paid. In fact, many of them are much more highly paid than you and I, Madam Speaker. They have been appointed to these boards with very high salaries and very questionable attributes. It seems that many times, at least on the surface, it is more likely because of party affiliation or who they supported that they get these jobs, not because of what they know or do.
Ironically, there is another bill which was being considered this morning in the standing committee on agriculture, which is Bill C-26. It also calls for the possibility of a board. In fact it states in the legislation that the minister for agriculture may set up an advisory board consisting of up to nine individuals, all appointed. A number of witnesses appeared before the committee this morning who raised questions about how the individuals will be selected and whether they will necessarily be the best people for the job.
I could have gone into a lot of other issues that are important. Time allocation and closure come to mind, as well as questions on the Order Paper. There are so many issues that on the surface seem dry and somewhat mundane. People probably do not have a lot of interest in them. But, in reality, once they are explained to the viewing public, they show a great deal of interest in them because they affect the way in which our country is governed.