Madam Speaker, I rise today to take part in the debate under Standing Order 51.
As a new member of Parliament, I will not delve into the history of parliamentary procedure. Instead I will provide insight into the practices that have proved their value to date in the 36th parliament and those which may require adjustments to further improve the operation and productivity of this House.
The structures which have been developed and put in place throughout the evolution of parliament serve as road signs for those of us within this House to do the business of parliament. They allow for an orderly progress of the business of the House.
One of the challenges facing parliament immediately following the last election was ensuring the equal opportunity of all parties represented in this House. Political commentators called it a pizza parliament and suggested it would have great difficulty in reaching a five party agreement as to party representation and participation in question period and on committees.
I would be remiss to portray this as an easy process. In reality, the whips and House leaders of all parties represented in parliament deserve recognition for endless meetings held prior to the commencement of the 36th parliament.
However, consensus was reached, basing representation on party proportionality, as explained by my colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell earlier today. This consensus among all other tenants of parliamentary procedures and rules has laid a foundation for fairness. A demonstration of this fairness is evidenced by the election of the Speaker of this House, which included members of all political stripes, including an independent representative.
Party whips are key to the evaluation of fairness in negotiating all party agreement. A team is an apt analogy for the business of this House. A team relies on the input of all members in order to play the game. This House requires the work and participation of every member in it to carry out its daily business.
Yesterday, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean made a statement of sorts by walking out of the House of Commons with his seat.
Yesterday's event was an example of a member of this House dissatisfied with his ability to represent his constituents in order to feel he makes a difference. While it is unfortunate that personal frustration occurs, there are avenues where members can express their views. They can offer to enlighten their colleagues in this House. They can bring the concerns of their constituents forward to this legislative body and they can institute change.
There is always room for improvement through the use of standing committees, question period, members' statements, votes and private members' business as well as House debates. There are many routes with which members of parliament of any political view can move their envelopes forward.
Our current voting structure balances the philosophical overarching decisions with political reality. Regardless of the ongoing debate of our system that voting is archaic and that we should move to an electronic method, discarding our treasured tradition of rising at our seat, the act of voting will continue to be a blending of constituent concerns, party values as well as personal points of view.
The current committee structure is key to all party consideration and examination of a multitude of facets of any given issue or any piece of legislation. This forum is used for reviewing, discussing and amending legislation. In my estimation it is an incredibly valuable process. The procedure and subsequent ability of committees to hold public consultations across the country serves to provide Parliament with a regionally specific concerns on many key issues.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Finance I saw the importance of this consultation firsthand during last fall's prebudget hearings. It is a huge task to consider and incorporate the competing needs of Canadians in submitting budget recommendations. There is a great variance whether it is rural and urban needs, regional differences, the social demand for reinvestment as well as the realization of fiscal responsibility, the overall need for budgetary accountability.
The system of consultations worked and it worked well. The budget introduced by the Minister of Finance earlier this year reflected the needs of Canadians, the concerns of committee members, the input of cabinet and the calculated fiscal accounting of the Department of Finance. Members who feel they have no avenue for change need only to review the minutes of the finance committee's prebudget hearings and compare them with the budget documents to see the correlation that exists.
As for improvements to the operation and work done by standing committees there is room for more exploratory work, aiming at the proactive development of legislation rather than the reactive review of legislation once it has been introduced.
The nature of debate in Parliament is to bring together diverse views, both political and ideological, and find consensus or majority of opinion. The process is necessary in the evolution of legislation. Although government bills dominate the legislative landscape private members' bills allow individuals to lift personal causes or local ideas to a national stage in order to receive debate. Not all private members' bills become votable. In reality during the entire 35th parliament out of 408 private members' bills introduced in this House 119 were debated, 47 were deemed votable, while a total of 9 passed.
While on the surface this ratio may seem less than impressive, and I am not about to say that it does not need improvement because I believe it does, private members' bills bring issues to the attention of all members of this House, including the government. In some cases over time the issues percolate into government policy and although it may not be under the exact terms of the private member's bill the issue does get addressed.
Earlier in this debate the Reform whip suggested that the justice committee failed to report during the 35th parliament on an issue of the rights of victims of crime. This issue originated as a private member's bill. In fact, this is untrue. The justice committee tabled a report in the House last April. That report is available to all members of the House. The real truth is that Reform members present walked out of the committee just as the motion to approve the report was being brought forward.
A new committee has undertaken a national consultative process on victims rights. It will be held in June of this year and a further report will be tabled in September 1998. I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.
As my colleague from Mississauga Centre pointed out, change is needed in moving private members' issues forward. I listened with interest to her recommendation and also urge the committee to carefully consider an alternate means of dealing with private members' bills.
Of particular interest is the bringing forward of bills based on signatures of support versus the current lottery system. Through collecting support of at least 10 members of each party for a total of 100 members, private members' bills would have the opportunity to be debated based on their perceived importance to parliament and Canadians rather than merely left to the luck of the draw.
The structured and strict running of question period has allowed more effective use of the allotted time. Throughout the week it allows questions of importance to be raised with the appropriate minister.
A recommendation which has been made in the past and which I support is weekly in-depth question and answer periods involving a designated minister. I suggest that Friday question periods be scheduled with regional ministers on a rotating basis, allowing greater debate on issues affecting each region or, in a related vein, that each Friday an assigned minister would be available for in-depth debate on specific issues relating to their portfolios.
This would provide both members of parliament and their constituents the opportunity to have local concerns raised in a focused forum where the minister will, based on the region or portfolio chosen, provide regionally specific responses to the questions posed.
While much more can be done to improve the accountability and the procedure of parliament, I feel it is necessary that we continue to adapt parliament to the changing environment. We must safeguard democracy and preserve the valuable traditions of this institution.