Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Yellowhead.
Part of the process of parliamentary reform perhaps includes some of the more subtle parts of the ways in which the practices of the House have evolved over the years and have been so important in providing the kinds of routines that allow us to discharge our functions day in and day out.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for you to be in the chair this evening, particularly as I give my perspective in terms of parliamentary reform, because I think it is rather poignant that a debate which took place some time ago, a contest that I am very proud we both had an opportunity to run in, was really, in my view, the beginning of a new phase with respect to the issue of parliamentary reform. Some two months or a month and a half after that deliberation, we now see ourselves, unlike other parliaments, still continuing in the need to look at and study the issue of improving the relationship that members of parliament have with the House and, more important, with their constituents.
The opportunity for us to speak today as a result of an agreement by all House leaders is one that I believe is of essential and extreme importance to all members of parliament. Parliamentary reform is an issue that concerns many Canadians. What we are in fact discussing today centres on the future viability of parliament and the value of those who have been sent here to represent the interests of their constituents.
One of the most interesting things that has happened, which has been discussed by various members in the House this evening, has been the question of the disconnect, to some extent, among constituents, Canadians and their voting patterns. However, I think the more disturbing trend might be encapsulated by those who observe and who I believe do not do so with a political bias. These are people such as Peter Dobell, who in his recent report entitled Reforming Parliamentary Practice: The Views of MPs , wrote:
In no other British-type legislature has the shift of power to the executive proceeded further than in the Canadian federal House of Commons.
There is obviously some tension with respect to this negative view and the idea that perhaps the House of Commons may not be able to continue to be relevant as long as power and decision making is so intently focused in one area.
I believe we have been placed in the unenviable position of trying to represent, as members of parliament, the views of constituents to bring forth worthwhile ideas, while at the same time realizing that very little can be done to accomplish this without the approval of the executive.
One of the items that has not been discussed at great length this evening and which I would like to touch upon is an area that I think all members of parliament can readily agree with. That is the notion of our private members' business. I look across and I know there are members of parliament who have helped this member in particular pass two pieces of legislation. One, Mr. Speaker, was passed with your help in 1996 with respect to organ donation. The other was with the help of members across the way, including the Minister of Justice, with respect to the issue of pursuit. It was the first change of the criminal code by a backbencher.
There are changes that reflect the essence and the meaningfulness of what members of parliament really must challenge and must bring forth in the House of Commons beyond question period in order to ensure that this place continues to be ever more relevant.
However, there is a problem. Some of this issue can be solved not simply with respect to the standing orders. I think all members of parliament in the House would agree that private members' business is something that is far more important. It might give an opportunity to members of parliament to see their positions effectively and, to some extent, properly addressed if we were to make all private members' business votable. It is reverse onus on members of parliament not to come forward with frivolous propositions in terms of legislation.
If members of parliament truly believe in what they are saying, and they truly believe that what they are advocating on behalf of their constituents is worthy enough of being on the floor of the House of Commons, then we owe it to members of parliament and to Canadians to ensure that members of parliament become accountable not to their colleagues and peers, but to the Canadians which they represent.
Each and every one of us has within our own right the privilege of being here. It is with the private members' business that I believe members of parliament can work with this side of the House and vice versa, by working on issues over and above the precious issues of the day that come up for 45 minutes, which you are no doubt familiar with, Mr. Speaker, with respect to question period. I believe we have an opportunity here to give members of parliament the hand up that they need to pick one, maybe two issues, in every parliament which they can broker and perhaps broker successfully, assuming they can lobby other members of parliament to tell them how important their issues are.
I have had some experience in winning a few bills. I have also had some rather unsavoury experiences with losing a bill, and particularly one dealing with predatory pricing. The House of Commons is supreme, parliament is supreme and not a committee that from time to time has usurped its authority to simply erase the bill because it did not happen to like it or because it was under particular instructions.
We all know that there are obligations on those committees. Ultimately, no committee as an adjunct or an arm of the House of Commons can assume a power which belongs to the House of Commons alone. It is for that reason that if we are going to treat private members' business seriously, when it goes to committee the role of committee must be to improve that bill, not extinguish it, not destroy it, not vandalize it and not remove it from existence.
I am speaking to the idea that bills that are votable must be treated with great respect. It has been a determination of the House that they be treated in such a way. I ask for the indulgence of members and the House leaders to consider that. If they truly want to make the role of members of parliament that much more relevant, that I believe is one area that we must work much harder on.
More important, I appreciate the role of the House leader of this party. I appreciate the role of the members who have had plenty of experience in the House and, yes, our new members who bring a very new perspective to what Canadians are saying to the House of Commons. It is equally important for us as members of parliament to be able to talk to members of parliament of the Conservative Party, the Alliance Party, the Bloc Quebecois and even other parties like the NDP.
In this context, it is important we have hope, pride and confidence in members so they set partisan politics aside for a while and ensure we are here to promote the interest of Canadians and that we work toward that end.
I think it is clear that partisanship has a lot to do with the effective operation of this House, but perhaps as well can on occasion be a threat of confidence in this House. That is why I implore members, and hope to have their support, to show today in this debate that we can work together for the good of our country, to ensure our country is running well and to offer it a better future.
If we do nothing more than work together on the very valuable proposals that are being put forward individually by members of parliament, irrespective of their partisan affiliation, we will have accomplished in this parliament what no other parliament has done before.
Wracked by the internal internecine fights of “we have got to make the point, we have to embarrass the government, the government has to protect itself,” I believe we have an opportunity which begins here this evening at ten to ten eastern standard time, to provide Canadians an opportunity to understand that what we do here is meaningful and important.
Many times we will see Americans and people from other countries come into this famous House of Commons. They will find it fascinating that less than two sword lengths apart people every day, day in and day out, can see the most important issues of the day debated. Some people call it a farce and some call it theatre.
We have an obligation to explain to Canadians what we are doing here, but to also let Canadians know that we have the opportunity and an advantage here this evening to do what no other parliament has done before.
While there is only ten minutes for discussion in what is otherwise a very worthwhile evening, there are issues of the Board of Internal Economy and perhaps opening that up to members of parliament, making decisions to members of parliament and to make sure their needs are truly met. These are all part and parcel of the much wider question of how we continue to reinvent ourselves and modernize ourselves.
I compliment the government and the House leaders for having the courage to go and visit this debate. We need to deal with substantive issues. Let us work together to make this parliament relevant and in so doing we will have honoured all Canadians.