The member says that it was not by me. I will concede that it was not by me. It was by one much greater than me. It was the previous leader of the official opposition who spoke on an issue very similar to what we are speaking to today.
Even though the speech is already in the Hansard of the day, I want to give portions of it today. I will read it back into the record because it was a very interesting story given by the leader of the opposition at the time, the member for Calgary Southwest. This is basically what he said:
Once upon a time there was a king named Jean I, who presided over a castle surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge. The inhabitants of his castle were divided into two classes: lords and ladies who occupied the front benches of the royal throne room on state occasions and the peasants who occupied the backbenches.
One day a group of peasants, or backbenchers as they were called, went out to toil in the fields. As they crossed the moat and started down the road they passed a cave from which emerged a great dragon breathing fire and smoke. The fire consumed 50 of the backbenchers and sent the rest scurrying back into the castle.
When King Jean was told of this terrible tragedy he resolved to investigate it himself. To help him he took along two of his most trusted knights. They included Lord Bob, the keeper of the royal whip, and Lord Boudriavere who had once been a bus boy in the castle cafeteria but had risen to high rank through his faithful service to King Jean.
As they surveyed the scene of the tragedy they observed three things. They saw the 50 fried backbenchers and said that was too bad. They saw the dragon lying dead from overexertion. They also noticed that the dragon's fire had ignited a seam of coal in the cave from which smoke continued to billow. Lord Bob, who was a straightforward fellow, and had been a sword fight referee in another life, said the obvious “The dragon is dead. This is good news. Let's go tell the backbenchers”. But Lord Boudriavere, who had once been a bus boy in the castle cafeteria and had risen to high rank through faithful service to the king, said “Not so fast”. Turning to King John he said “I see an opportunity here to maintain and increase our control over the peasants. Let us imply, indirectly of course, that the fiery dragon still lives. We can point to the smoke belching from the cave as evidence of this. Let us tell the backbenchers that henceforth they can only go out of the castle with royal permission and under the supervision of myself and Lord Bob, for the safety and protection, of course, of themselves and the castle”.
King Jean thought this was a splendid idea and thus the myth of the fiery dragon was established. It was used to coerce and control the backbenchers of the kingdom until King Jean was defeated in battle by a knight from the west which is another story I will tell on some other occasion.
There is a myth in the House that lurking out there somewhere is the fiery dragon of the confidence convention, the erroneous belief studiously cultivated by the government that if a government bill or motion is defeated, or an opposition bill, motion or amendment is passed, this obliges the government to resign. This myth is used to coerce government members, especially backbenchers, to vote for government bills and motions with which they and their constituents disagree and to vote against opposition bills, motions and amendments with which they substantially agree.
The reality is that the fiery dragon of the confidence convention in its traditional form is dead. The sooner the House officially recognizes that fact, the better for all. It is true that there was a time when the rules supported the traditional confidence convention but that is not the current situation.
The Leader of the Opposition then quoted from Beauchesne's sixth edition, which outlined our existing practice:
The determination of the issue of confidence in the government is not a question of procedure or order, and does not involve the interpretive responsibilities of the Speaker.
I will stop reading from his speech, but he goes on to point out that the use of confidence is totally a tool of the government and that it is not for the Speaker of the House to determine.
I need to talk about this because it is very important to the motion today. We are being told that because the government controls the committees no amendments can be dealt with rationally, reasonably and honestly there.
As opposition members we have all had the experience of deciding not to bring up an amendment in committee because we know that the government will defeat it and no one will even know about it. We decide rationally to bring it in at report stage so that at least we can get a bit of debate on it and make our point to the people of Canada, who usually pay more attention to this place than they do to committees in the House.
This is what the Leader of the Opposition was talking about when he spoke about the dragon of confidence. He was referring to the fact that if government members should somehow vote for a bill or a motion or an amendment that came from the opposition side, it would necessitate calling an election. That has been one of the huge frustrations to me over the years in this place. We can be voting on anything, whereas what we are really voting on every time is whether there will be an election. It does not matter what the issue is.
Backbenchers on the government side, currently the Liberals but whatever party is in power, have their hands tied. They cannot vote against a bad motion or for a good motion if one or the other of them has come from the wrong side of the House. That is a huge handicap to our effectiveness in parliament.
Let me relate to members that in my previous life, among other things, I was involved in a lot of voluntary work. For seven years I was the chairman of a school board. We had about 15 or 20 members on the school board. It was a very interesting and democratic place. Most of the people on the board were parents of the children in our school. They were there to represent the wishes of their children and also the well-being of the school. As the chairman for seven years it gave me the opportunity to serve the people of my community.
I have been thinking about this in retrospect now that I have been here for seven years. I spent seven years on the school board and I have spent seven years here in parliament.
In the seven years I was on the school board I have no idea how many motions were defeated. Maybe a parent, a teacher or a student would come up with an idea and one of the board members would pick up on it and take it to the board. To adhere to Roberts Rules of Order , I had a little rule that we would not discuss things until there was a motion. If someone was willing to make a motion and someone was willing to second it we would start debating it.
Let us say a motion was made and we would start debating it. One or two members would speak in favour of it because on the surface it sounded like a good idea. Then one of the people on the board would wonder what would happen if we passed it. He would begin thinking about the law of unintended consequences and, even though our intentions may have been good, that something detrimental could happen.
Another member may think of another reason the motion should not be adopted. In about 10 or 15 minutes of debate on the issue our board would clearly develop a consensus that the motion would be good for our school, our students, our staff, our parents and maybe the community.
What happens? Well, I am the chairman. When the debate is finished and everyone has had their say, I would call for a vote. Only one person would vote for the motion: the guy who made it, because he somehow feels obliged to. The other 14 or 15 members vote against it.
We have effectively done exactly what parliamentarians are supposed to do. They are supposed to pass good laws and to prevent bad laws from being passed. Here was a motion that was bad, and in our wisdom we were able to detect that and defeat it.
Did I, as chairman of the board, ask the board members not to vote against the motion because one of our guys made it and if we defeat it we will have to resign and call for the election of a new school board? It would be the height of stupidity if a school board acted like that.
When there is a motion we debate the motion. When the vote is called we vote on the motion. If the motion is good we pass it and go to the next item of business. If the motion is bad, dumb or stupid we defeat it. We congratulate ourselves for having defeated a motion that should never have been brought in and we go on to the next order of business.
What do we do in this place? There is a motion in front of the House to amend a bill. A lot of members think the amendment will improve it. We have motions that sometimes stand alone as very good motions but they come from this side of the House.
Are members on the other side free to vote for it because it is a good idea? Are they free to vote for it because I and some of my members were able to articulate a solid argument in favour of the idea? No. The Prime Minister tells them that this is a confidence motion. There is the dragon. He tells them that if they vote for it and the government falls, an election will have to be called.
While those of us on this side are proposing a motion that would be good for Canada and for its people, the other side is voting on whether we should have an election.
No wonder it is totally dysfunctional. No wonder government members must now bring in a mallet to beat down the gnat. They cannot get it into their heads that the changes were necessary considerably previous to the issue that is before the House today.
It is not whether the House does not work in report stage. It is because we are not able to deal honestly, openly and forthrightly with amendments in committee with free votes. That is really the question.
It has been a distress to me to have to deal with issues like this one over the last seven years, but I am not the only one. I have observed that other members have had the same frustrations and difficulties.
For example, our House leader, who recently gave a very important speech about invoking closure, made an appeal to the Speaker not to allow time allocation because sufficient time had not been given. In that particular case the issue was not allowed. The vote went forward and it proceeded anyway.
My colleagues and I and other members of the opposition, including the Liberals when they were in opposition, have had frustrations over the years with the problems that arise from a dysfunctional parliament.
I would like to quote some important comments on the topic of closure. That is really what we are talking about here. We are talking about the way we deal with parliamentary debates. When the Liberals were in opposition and closure was proposed, it was one Lloyd Axworthy, whose name we can now say since he is no longer a member of the House, who said “It displays the utter disdain with which this government treats the Canadian people”. That is how he spoke about not being able to debate.
My whole thesis today is that the motion is necessary because we are not permitted to debate or to have free votes in committee. We are not permitted to debate and to have free votes in the House to get the best rules. What do we do then if there is a detrimental and negative bill or a motion before the House?
A small group of people make the decisions. They do not even hear the arguments. They are busy in their offices while we are discussing these bills and motions. They just blindly and bullheadedly push forward and say that it will go through the way it was first devised, no ifs, ands or buts. They say that if we do not vote for it they will have to call an election. It is total control and total lack of respect for parliament.
The person who is now the government House leader said in 1992 that he was shocked. He said it was just terrible. He said “Shame on those Tories across the way”. That is when the now government House leader was sitting on this side in opposition. He was speaking to members of the Tory government on the other side. They were trying to talk about a major piece of legislation and they would not let them talk about it.
I have a couple of other quotes which are available in Hansard . I have a quotation from a person whose name I will not mention. How do I identify this person? I will be brutal. He is the present Speaker of the House. We all remember him fondly. When our present Speaker was a member on the government's side he had a way of giving some really great oratorical diatribes against the party on this side.
Those of us who have been here since 1993 remember when he used to read from the little green book of quotations or something like that. He had so much fun with that. We are very glad that he has now progressed to a high degree of impartiality and has taken on the job of the Speaker as an impartial judge of how things are done here.
Here are some of his quotes. I quote him simply because he is an honourable, respectable member, who spoke of the limitations of the freedoms of members of parliament to adequately debate when he was on this side. He said:
What we have here is an absolute scandal in terms of the government's unwillingness to listen to the representatives of the people in the House. Never before has the government been so reluctant to engage in public debate.
That is the point exactly. We chose to have four days of stand up votes because we said to the government that this issue was so important that one way or another we would be spending a week of parliament on it. It should have been more but we would be spending at least a week.
If the government did not comply and allow us to talk, we would be doing this. The advance notice was given. It was the government leader who made the decision for us to stand up on four days of standing and sitting down. Then he has the audacity to stand on the other side and say we are wasting time. The same time could have been used for debates if he would have permitted it but he chose not to do so. No wonder we are where we are.
I also need to say something else about the debate. The debate is not only about parliament, the place of speaking and the place of many words. I guess I am guilty of many words today. Actually I do not think I am guilty of anything. I am merely participating in that rare occasion when I am not limited to 10, 20 or 40 minutes and can actually speak my mind. Today I am doing that.
I will go back to my earlier statement about the consent of the government. It is important when we deal with issues that are important to the country like the Nisga'a agreement and others that we give time in the House to debate them. Then we could give time to our parliamentarians to go back to their ridings to discuss the issues with the people we represent.
It is unconscionable that we should rush head long into some of these agreements, treaties and other matters without bringing the people together. We do not achieve unity or harmony by simply taking these people who presumably are feuding and bumping their heads together. No, we get them talking to each other and compromising. We get them to talk and work out the problems.
When I think of some of the issues that have been brought to the House of Commons through our people out in the field via our members of parliament, it is really too bad that we do not have the opportunity to debate those issues, to persuade our fellow parliamentarians and to allow them the opportunity to respond to a rational argument rather than just an emotional response because we are on the wrong side or a response of blind obedience to a party system which is no longer a workable model in modern society.
It is time that we start to look at what it means to have a representative in parliament. If members of parliament come here and have their hands totally tied and duct tape over their mouths, what is the point of sending them here? We could save money. Let us have a king over there that rules the land and forget about having a parliament.