Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue the review of history and point out that in 1985 a very significant review called the McGrath committee tabled its report. It stated:
The House does not attach any great importance to private members' business as it is now organized. This is evident from the fact that members are seldom greatly concerned to claim the priorities they have drawn in the ballot governing the use of private members' time, and this is largely because private members' bills and motions rarely come to a vote.
This is a key point we are raising here today. We are asking that all private members' business be deemed votable if the private members wish. The committee said that its proposals were designed to achieve a number of improvements in the way private members' business is dealt with. I do not have time to go through them all but there have been many changes since then.
Private members' business has eroded significantly in importance. It is time to again review what we do and improve the whole area. We have evolved to the point where minority rights are not respected. By establishing the custom at the private members' committee that there be a consensus of committee members before an item is deemed votable we have again ensured a tyranny of the majority.
It is in the best interest of the government, the opposition and all Canadians that we make significant improvements to private members' business.
Much discussion has taken place in recent years on the topic of making parliament more effective and democratic. We began this parliament by saying that we must improve the way we do things in this place and bring back more democracy. A lot of controversy has taken place of late concerning pay and benefits for parliamentarians. My question is this: Why do we not focus more effort on doing our jobs well? The rest will take care of itself.
As many members know, I along with many members have had great concerns that we as MPs lack effectiveness in representing the people of Canada. Much of that is because of the lack of democracy in the House and the inability of MPs to speak freely on issues and vote on the merits of legislation rather than along party lines.
The motion that all private members' business be votable is predicated on the assumption that free votes on private members' business will continue. Much of the debate in the House is meaningless because MPs do not listen to it. Why? It is because they are not free to vote based on the arguments presented. They are told how to vote. Why listen to the pros and cons of the debate? Why listen to constituents? Why even be here? MPs do not even have to make the decision. Someone else likely makes it for them.
Making all private members' business votable would mean that MPs would need to pay attention. They would need to listen to all the arguments, put their brains in gear and think carefully about how to vote because every vote would be a free vote. Every vote would be theirs and theirs alone.
Making all private members' business votable would be a huge change in this place. It would probably do more to change the dynamics of parliament than any other change I could contemplate, other than of course making all legislation a free vote.
If we want to send a serious signal to the citizens of Canada that we are here to do a job and do it well to earn our salaries, this would be one of the best ways to start doing that. What are some of the consequences I would anticipate if private members' business were made votable and free votes were to continue? Of course the role of backbench MPs would suddenly become much more meaningful.
As it now stands, the Prime Minister and cabinet have all the means at their disposal to bring forth legislation and put in place initiatives they wish to promote. However Canadians have many concerns and issues that are never addressed because there is no mechanism to do so. We generally pay very little attention to issues not introduced by the government because we know they have little or no hope of being passed. This would change considerably.
Canadians are frustrated that they cannot advance issues through their elected representatives. With these changes, MPs would be forced to be better listeners. We would need to listen to our constituents and listen to debate in parliament. It would become much more obvious if an MP was not on duty and doing his or her job.
Another change I anticipate is that MPs who bring forward a bill or motion would need to do a lot more work in preparing to introduce it. They would need to do their homework because they would likely only have one opportunity to put forth the issue in the life of the parliament, but one opportunity is certainly better than none.
Another change is that the apathy Canadians have for politics and for parliament would diminish. The cynicism so prevalent throughout the land would decline as they saw and heard us doing our job. There should be a much more serious attitude to the processes that go into making the laws and rules we all must live by in this democratic society.
If all private members' business is made votable there would need to be an assurance that it would then be properly and effectively advanced, not swept under the table by the government or the Senate or in any other way.
I come back to where I started, that unless we change the system we will not change much else. The process is most important. If we do not bring meaningful democracy to the House we will not be effective in making the positive and meaningful changes people look to us to make.
We would need to review the workings of the change because the devil would be in the details. We would need a careful examination of all consequential changes that would need to be made if the motion were passed.
How many private members' bills and motions could realistically be handled in the life of a parliament? That is one question we would need to answer.
Another question is how the items would be selected to ensure that the most important issues were advanced and the rights of each MP were respected. I come back to the first law in parliamentary procedure, that we respect the rights of all members.
We must examine the cost of doing this. We must review and make additional changes so the change has maximum effectiveness. By simply passing the motion we would open up a complete study of how to make private members' business and all consequential changes more effective. There would be a lot of changes and we would need to ensure the principle was respected.
I urge all MPs to have the courage to make these key changes. Let us be willing to work harder to ensure this place does what it was originally intended to do in a democracy. Let us make it more relevant to the lives of all Canadians. By making the change we would trigger meaningful debates across the country on various issues. That needs to happen here and across the country.
I will conclude by sharing some of my personal experience with regard to private members' business. Since I was first elected to parliament in 1993 I have had a total of four private members' bills and eight private members' motions selected for debate in the House of Commons. That is twelve private members' bills and motions. Not one has been deemed a votable item by the private members' business subcommittee.
During my one hour of debate on each bill and motion I introduced motions asking for unanimous consent to have them declared votable and sent to the standing committee for further study. All my motions were refused or deemed not votable by members of the government on the other side of the House. Most MPs in the House have not had much better luck.
I will give hon. members some statistics I compiled as I was preparing for the debate. In the 35th parliament, 207 private members' bills and motions were drawn. Only 77 were made votable. That is 37%.
In the 36th parliament, the parliament before the last election, 223 private members' bills and motions were drawn. Only 58 were made votable. That is 26%.
So far in this parliament, the 37th parliament, 60 private members' bills and motions have been drawn. Only 12 have been deemed votable. That is 20%.
The way the process is structured that percentage will decline. We have a distinct pattern. Fewer and fewer private members' bills and motions are being deemed votable. Since the beginning of this parliament we as Canadian Alliance MPs have had 24 items drawn and placed on the order of precedence. Only 2 of them have been deemed votable. That is 8%. These statistics show that the situation is getting worse over time, not better.
One thing that concerns me is that at the committee we have developed the custom that all decisions be a consensus. We have determined that all bills and motions which are deemed votable, which are drawn in the lottery and come to committee to be deemed votable or not votable, should receive the support of most or all members of the committee. That flies in the face of Beauchesne's first principle:
To protect a minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of a majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner; to enable every Member to express opinions within limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time; to give abundant opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken upon sudden impulse.
We must go back to that. We must ensure that the rights of every MP are respected. That is the basis of democracy. That must happen. Unless we go back to that we will be wasting our time in a lot of the things we do.