Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your intervention because this is an issue of great importance to all members of this House.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the reason this bill is now on the order of precedence for Wednesday—it is to be debated Wednesday—is because the member for Langley—Abbotsford, who is now not in favour with his party, surrendered his position and agreed to change his position on Private Members' Business for Wednesday for my bill, and that is how it advanced.
But I wish to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, that the issue of concern to the member for Athabasca pertains to something that occurred on June 11, 1998, 19 months ago, and he has held off making representations about his concern until today. At no time has he spoken to me about his concern. At no time, I believe, has he spoken to other people. He has chosen this very last moment, and so while he had 19 months to prepare his submission this morning, I have only had a few hours. You will have to forgive me, Mr. Speaker, if some of my remarks are a little disjointed because I have had to put this defence together very rapidly. But I am prepared to defend it because I do not feel that the member for Athabasca's charges—and they are very extreme charges—have any substance. I will take my chances and go right from here.
I am just going point by point from the speech this morning, but I only have the advantage of the blues, Mr. Speaker. One of the member's complaints was that the member for Wentworth—Burlington was carrying invalid support for Bill C-264, which is the access to information bill, over to the second session by applying it to the new procedures for Private Members' Business. I contest the use of the words invalid support. The people who seconded my bill, and I have the signatures before me, knew in principle what the bill was about. I would contest the use of the word invalid. There was nothing invalid about the support.
The member for Athabasca claims that he did not second Bill C-264 in the form that he now finds it before the House, in the form of Bill C-206. Mr. Speaker, you will have to understand that after the resumption of the session I had to reintroduce the revised version of Bill C-264 and it has now become Bill C-206. But the point to remember is that the original bill was submitted before this House on June 11, 1998 and had the unanimous consent of this House that it should go forward in that revised version.
Now the member says that he did not officially and wilfully second the new version of Bill C-264. Mr. Speaker, the member for Athabasca was in the House at the time I submitted the revised version. He was here. He has had 19 months to examine the bill. He has had 19 months to decide that he did not like what he gave his unanimous support for, and yet he leaves it to the last minute.
No, Mr. Speaker, the member was in the House and he knew that the bill had changed. If he had objections he has had ample time to raise those objections. He was in the House with his own private member's bill, Bill C-227, and Mr. Speaker you will find it in Hansard on that occasion.
I refer to Hansard of that particular occasion because the member also raises that issue. What I said at the time, Mr. Speaker—and he was there when I said it—was that the reason why I wanted to resubmit a revised version of Bill C-264 was that many people had made representations to me and felt that there were some flaws and technical difficulties. Mr. Speaker, indeed I feel there were flaws and I did change them accordingly. So it is very clear that I am not talking just about technical difficulties; I am talking about inadequacies in the bill as I originally wrote it as Bill C-264 and some changes were made. The member knew about those changes. He did not know them in detail, but he knew that changes had occurred.
The essence of the member's complaint is that he is saying “I did not support Bill C-264 in its revised version”. Now I will set aside for a minute, Mr. Speaker, the fact that he gave his unanimous consent. Remember what is occurring here. When a private member—and this was one of the first times that it happened—seeks seconders for his bill in order to get it on the order of precedence, he only seeks seconders.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that I do believe that many people who seconded my Bill C-264 in its original version had not actually read the contents of it. I interpreted the seconding of my Bill C-264 as supporting Bill C-264 in principle. Of course there are going to be aspects of the bill that are going to be subject to debate, to controversy. Of course when it goes to second reading we are going to debate it. There is no guarantee that anyone who seconded the bill is going to actually vote for the bill. Mr. Speaker, all we did by having the seconders was to enable the bill to get on the order of precedence.
I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to an actual document. I will not show it to the House, but this is the petition I sent around with various signatures. It contains the signature of the member for Athabasca and 112 signatures of other members of the House. The wording I used in order to obtain those signatures was precisely this: “I second Bill C-264 and would like to see it be placed immediately on the order of precedence”. There was no promise about the detailed contents of the bill. It was simply an undertaking that they would support the bill and to see it on the order of precedence so it could be debated.
I refer you also, Mr. Speaker, to the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the subcommittee that examined the issue of private members' business when it considered the various representations to have the 100 signatures as a means of seconding a bill and getting it on the order of precedence.
That report came out about a year ago. It says, “If the sponsoring member is prepared to work hard to solicit support, and if enough members feel that the item should be debated”, just be debated, “then this alternative procedure” should be instituted. The alternative procedure in the recommendation is that the standing orders be amended to allow items outside the order of precedence that have been jointly seconded by at least 100 members from at least two recognized political parties in the House of Commons to be placed on the order of precedence.
We are not talking about the deep substance of the bill. We are talking about the bill in principle. We are talking only about the bill getting into the House to be debated.
He said that he would expect any changes, major or minor, should have been brought to the attention of members of the House. When we have a very large bill it is impossible to discuss with 113 members every change we might be contemplating, because the details of any legislation in the House, be it private members' legislation or government bills, are a matter of debate in the House and in committee. The committee and the House decide on the fate of the bill based on that debate.
It is totally unreasonable for the member for Athabasca to have expected me to go to him and 112 other members to detail every change I contemplated with the bill. I repeat that the member for Athabasca was in the House when the revised version went forward.