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House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.

Topics

Presence In GalleryPrivate Members' Business

3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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June 12th, 2001 / 3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my friend from Elk Island on his normal loquaciousness and eloquence on the subject of empowering individual members through the private member's bill process.

If we were to have a vote for parliamentarian of the year, I am sure that the member for Elk Island would rank in the top two or three. I am sure members opposite would agree that he is one of the most diligent, thoughtful and hardworking and one of the most present of parliamentarians. He is always here and always participating in debate.

For that reason, it is really quite disturbing to learn, as the hon. member just instructed us, that in his several years in this place he has not once had an opportunity to have a private member's bill come forward and be deemed votable, or even debatable as I understand it, because of the absurd arbitrariness of the luck of the draw system we have here.

I would ask the hon. member if he could expound on that. Has he in fact brought forward private members' bills on the order paper? If so, why have they not been allowed to be debated in the House?

Second, I had an experience where I had a private member's bill on the non-controversial subject of opening the national archives for research purposes for access to the census records of 1901. Unfortunately, a government member, I am sure on the instruction of the minister responsible, moved an amendment to my motion that essentially gutted it and rendered it effectively meaningless. All of the work I had done, dozens of hours of work, and all of the tens of thousands of letters, phone calls, faxes and e-mails from Canadians expressing concern about the issue and support for the bill, was vitiated by a dilatory motion introduced by a government member and passed by the government, which had the effect of completely gutting and undermining my private member's motion.

I wonder if my colleague from Elk Island would also reflect on whether he believes that private members' bills, should they be deemed votable, should be protected from such dilatory legislative manoeuvrings on the part of the government.

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very kind statements at the beginning of his remarks. I do not know, perhaps I have some pathological problem, but I actually do enjoy debates. I always have. One of the greatest regrets I have is that too often in the House we are debating with empty chairs. It is really difficult to change hon. members' minds when we do not even know what their views are in the first place.

I would like to say just a few things about this matter. First, I have had a private member's bill on the list. Of course as the hon. member knows, if one has even just one bill, his or her name is on the list. My name has never been drawn.

I have had two private members' bills. One is urgent and it has never been drawn. It deals with the issue of dates. If we use only numbers for expressing dates, what does 2/3/1 mean? Is it February 3? Is it the 2nd of March? Is it the year 1? Is it the year 2002? Is it the year 2003? My bill is a very important bill and simply provides for removal of the ambiguity if people use numbers only. My second bill is a very important one, and that is the one that states Canadian taxpayers should not have to pay income tax on money they earn for the sole purpose of paying taxes. That has to do with exempting from income money people earn in order to pay their property taxes.

They are two very important bills. I have never had the opportunity to even debate them let alone get them voted on.

I would like to comment on his statement regarding amendments. I have often thought about this, not only on private members' business but also on supply day motions. One thing we started to do was split our time for our first speaker so our second speaker could make an amendment of little consequence to prevent the other side from making one.

I remember in our first term here there was an occasion that just blew my mind. We put a motion and the government made an amendment that stated “all the words after the word “that” be deleted and replaced by”, then it put in its own motion. It was our supply day motion but the government totally gutted it by deleting the whole thing.

Sometimes private members' motions have errors so it is necessary to make technical amendments. I would like to see a change so that the only amendments permitted for private members' business would be those that would be put by permission of the movers. In other words, if the mover can be persuaded that the motion will not pass, unless it is amended, because of a technical problem, then obviously that member would go along with the amendment and it would be in order. However, if the mover did not approve of it, then the amendment would be out of order and the original motion would stand.

I thank the hon. member for giving me the opportunity to speak about those two issues.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe very strongly that this is one of the most important motions that has come before the House since I have been here. I believe this one measure, more than any other element of parliamentary reform, would empower individual MPs and hence their constituents.

Why do I say that? Because the whip, the Prime Minister's Office or the leader's office cannot control the private members' legislation or motions that members bring before this place. It is precisely those motions which can reflect issues that the political class and the centre of authority in the PMO on that side refuses to have brought forward for debate.

Many sensible bills come before this place, but many deal with issues which are not on the political agenda of the government or for whatever reason, on the political agenda of party strategists on the opposition side. No single step would do more to empower us than to give every MP at least one votable private member's bill. There is no good reason this ought not to happen because if each of the 300 MPs had a votable motion or bill that could easily be contained within the period of time for debate.

Here we are leaving the House two weeks before the parliamentary schedule indicates. There is plenty of time. We could extend hours, sit earlier, sit later or sit longer to debate issues which are of importance to Canadians and to this parliament, which are not brought forward on government orders.

I just want it on the record in questions and comments, and my colleague may want to reply, that on behalf of my constituents I firmly support this motion and I would hope that members opposite, as private members not as partisans, would accept this as a sensible incremental reform.

In closing, I understand that the so-called modernization committee had given near unanimous approval for this, except for one House leader for a minor party. That is unfortunate. I understand that even the government was commendably prepared to give support to a step of this nature to empower members through more votable private members' bills. Therefore, we are almost there. I would appeal to the House leader of that minor party to reconsider why it is that he is being a roadblock to major parliamentary reform in this measure.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I concur with what the member for Calgary Southeast has just said.

I think back during my years here and I had the questionable privilege for a time of being on that infamous subcommittee of private members. I always felt ill at ease because of the very subjective criteria that were used. There was really no way of properly evaluating bills that should be votable or should not. I understand that the criteria are now somewhat different but still very subjective.

I remember with fondness the leadership of the member for Mississauga Centre who at that time was chairperson of that committee. We were able, through some sleepiness on the part of the Liberals, to bring through some amendments to the way private members' business was conducted. One of the very significant ones of course was that the voting would begin in the back rows so that the members in the front row—

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

With unanimous consent.

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Yes, Mr. Speaker, it was with unanimous consent when there were no Liberals in the House and we were able to sneak that through. It was a coup of major proportions.

The members in the back no longer had the luxury of waiting for the members in the front to vote to see how they should vote, so they actually had to think about it.

Recently we dealt with the issue of pay raises for members of parliament. In my speech on that topic I said that I had a motion to amend that particular bill. I suggested that all Liberal members should be eligible for a raise in pay if they could say what it was they voted against when they voted against my amendment.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am always delighted to be received with such enthusiasm by my colleagues across the way. It is particularly interesting today how we are all just getting along so wonderfully well.

The debate we just listened to would have to be considered a pretty historic debate in this place and in this country. I would not even call it a debate. Perhaps it was a coronation, a very justifiable and proud moment for all Canadians. This place, which is the representative body for all Canadians, and the government have made the decision to confer our citizenship, something that we all believe in so deeply, to Nelson Mandela.

It is particularly interesting to see the carryover. I will try not to spoil the glow of euphoria which seems to be here because it is close to the break in session. However, there are some things I feel I must point out in relationship to this motion.

Let me also say right at the outset that I am delighted to vote in favour of the motion. I made that decision, contrary perhaps to the beliefs of some members opposite, before I discussed it with anybody in my caucus or in my government. I looked at it and said that it made sense.

I had one private member's bill in four years drawn out of the lottery, which is very frustrating. That one was drawn in the first three years of the parliamentary session, and I have yet to have another one drawn in the first year of the new session. In four years I have submitted eight or so for consideration. It is a lottery and I have never been very lucky at those kinds of things like gambling or buying lottery tickets, so it carries over to getting my private member's bill brought to the front.

When my name was drawn, the private member's bill I picked was one that would have created national standards for apprenticeship training from sea to sea to sea, in every province and in every territory. It seemed to make a lot of sense.

In fact we do have a program called the red seal program, which recognizes apprenticeship programs across the country. However it does not recognize the different categories of apprenticeship or provinces and the territories. People may be qualified to work in a particular trade in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, but they are not qualified to work in that same trade with that same training in Ontario or Quebec.

There are numerous examples of that. It just seemed to me to be awfully silly when one of the roles of the national parliament was to fund post-secondary education. Where we have perhaps gone off base is that we do not look at apprenticeship training as post-secondary education, and we should.

A ticket to practise as a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber, a pipefitter or any of those is as equally important and valuable, and in many cases more so, as a university degree. When people need a plumber, they do not care if that person has a university degree as long as he or she is capable of fixing whatever the problem happens to be.

It was astounding to find out that our standards were all over the map. I thought the best way to address this would be through a private member's bill, so I drafted the bill and put it forward. I waited patiently for my name to be drawn from the lottery and after three years it finally was.

I was then told that I had a five minute opportunity to go before a committee, which would then make a decision, after hearing from me, on whether my motion would be votable in the House of Commons. There was never a question about having a debate. As we know, a member is given the opportunity in private members' hour to come here and line up speakers.

By the way, I had support in just about every corner of this place, with the exception of the official opposition, because it transcended provincial boundaries. This is one of the fundamental problems when dealing with private members' bills.

The basic policy during the selection of private members' bills to be votable is that priority is given based on the fact that they should transcend purely local interest, not be couched in partisan terms and cannot be addressed by the House in other ways. They also should not be part of the government business or the normal, ongoing routine that the government might be undertaking.

In my case it was not. In fact I attempted to have the government adopt my private member's bill as government legislation. There were problems in the bureaucracy. Why? Even the bureaucracy thought that I was transcending provincial boundaries and interfering in the jurisdiction of the provincial governments.

Think about that. It is extremely frustrating. My private member's bill was a bill which, if this motion were in place, would have come on the floor of the House of Commons for a vote. In my opinion, notwithstanding opposition from the official opposition, I think it would have carried.

I am not asking that we take over apprenticeship training. I recognize that in the province of Ontario, for example, apprenticeship training works extremely well with our community colleges. It is a very successful and fundamental program. I believe more and more people should be, and I hope are, encouraging their sons and daughters to look at this as an opportunity for a different career.

Lord knows, we do not need more lawyers. We have plenty. We also know that only a certain segment of our society perhaps will be doctors. However we have a terrible shortage of skilled tradespeople within the construction industry across the country.

For the foreseeable future, the boom appears to be very lively for construction, whether it is something as fundamental as new housing or whether it is in infrastructure and trying to repair the damage which has occurred in our large communities as a result of the neglect in funding infrastructure over the last several years, as we all worship at the altar of tax cuts and reduced government. We have seen a deterioration in the quality of life as a result of all levels of government. The federal government, I admit, and provincial governments have cut back on the things that are fundamental and necessary to build good communities.

If my motion had been allowed to come here perhaps we would be seeing more people entering the trades and more qualified people. We would have had an opportunity to increase this priority and provide information to young people on their opportunities. The red seal program works to a certain degree and national building trades across the nation have instituted some good educational programs. However even they are having difficulty in getting their message across.

By the way, my private member's bill had the support in writing of many unions across the country that thought it was about time the national government established national standards.

Why would something as seemingly sensible as national standards for apprenticeship training fail to survive? It failed to survive because of the attitude, perhaps not partisan but certainly parochial, taken by members of the committee. I cannot, will not and would not name names because the process has been internal and I respect the fact that those people work on the committee. However the committee interfered in provincial jurisdiction.

I hope that by passing the opposition day motion we can move away from the attitude which permeates the caucus, what is left of it, of the official opposition. It has an attitude that if it is federal it is bad and that if it is Ottawa it is too big and interferes with what it wants to see happen in Alberta or British Columbia.

We all know that the weekly caucus meetings of the Alliance, the official opposition, are modelled after the show The Weakest Link . We understand that they are having a problem. We understand also that The Weakest Link appears to be their leader. I do not want to be unfair but I want to talk about the fact that the members have become very myopic.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Is the hon. member splitting his time? I think his time is up.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

No. We are still on a 20 minute speech and 10 minutes questions and comments. The hon. member has another 10 minutes.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry you must put up with us for another 10 minutes but I will try to be gentle. One of the things that underlies the differences we have in this place is the constant criticism of the role of MPs. It is almost like a sport. It is done to try to denigrate the role of MPs.

It is my submission that we have spent too much time over the past several months dealing with certain faux pas on all sides. If we turn on Canada AM at six o'clock in the morning all we hear about is the latest group to leave the opposition caucus or perhaps the latest member on the government side who has said something he or she regrets or wishes to apologize for.

We as a body politic are being distracted on all sides of this place by the nonsense that is going on internally within our own caucuses and undermining our ability to represent our communities. I say that in a spirit of non-partisanship which I am not normally prone to do.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In a show of non-partisanship with the member from Mississauga, this is his opportunity. My point of order is this. Given that the supply motion will pass with the seemingly unanimous consent of all parties, I ask for unanimous consent of the House to make private members' Motions Nos. 293 and 361 votable.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

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4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it should be obvious to anyone watching, if there is anyone watching, that the strategy of the opposition is to try to distract me. However let me assure opposition members that they have failed for four years and will continue to fail.

I have a point to make that they apparently do not want to hear. When people stand in this place and continually assail members of parliament and say, to quote many of them, that we are trained seals or that we vote mindlessly, they know it is not the case.

There are many examples of opposition members being expelled from their own caucus for rebellious attitudes. We have seen more discipline invoked on that side of the House in the last couple of months than we have seen on this side of the House in the last seven or eight years. Free votes are the standard within the Liberal government.

The problem with the private member's issue is not so much the government. The current process is pretty standard. We have a former cabinet minister in the Manitoba legislature with us. I am sure he would agree that legislature had a similar process, although maybe not a lottery. We had a different one in Ontario. However, private members' business was never taken seriously unless it was some kind of spectacular motion, outrageous bill or wonderful solution.

I had a private member's bill when I was an MPP in Ontario. I had found out, quite to my surprise, that kids were spending their lunch money on lottery tickets for professional sports games. I found out quite by accident. I was lining up to make a purchase in a store in my community and a youngster in front of me was asking what the odds were on Monday night football. When I asked what in the world that was about I was stunned to find out there was no age restriction on the purchase of lottery tickets to bet on professional sports.

I therefore put forward a private member's bill. I asked the premier at the time to support it. It passed in three sessional days with unanimous support from all parties in the Ontario legislature. In a record vote, in record time and with record numbers, we put an age restriction on the buying of lottery tickets to gamble on professional sports.

Every once in a while an issue comes along that makes sense. Everyone was shocked by it, including Bob Rae, the premier of the day. If I had gone the normal route and had not been able to seek unanimous consent it would have taken weeks, months, perhaps never, to get my private member's bill approved.

There is absolute good sense, I hate to use the word common sense because it has been wrenched away from some of us in Ontario, in putting forth a motion like the one here today.

I will share some statistics. It is interesting that the opposition party talks about democracy in this place, allowing free votes, not using closure and all those things. I see the former leader of the current opposition party, the old Reform Party, is with us today and it is nice to see him here. When he was leader of that party five of his MPs were suspended and several others demoted from their caucus positions.

During the current leadership of course we all know of the gang of eight. It may have swollen to 12; I missed the press conference today that I was so anxious to see. Eight members have been booted out of caucus because they dared to speak out against their leader. How can they or any one representing that party stand in their places, demand openness and accountability and accuse our government of using discipline too much while that party boots out eight members?

There may be as many as 12 members if the discipline reaches some of the higher profile members who spoke out, such as the member for Edmonton North, the first Reform member elected here. The minute she spoke out in opposition to the leadership there was a pretty loud pause as party members said that maybe they should not kick the mother of the Reform Party out of caucus. They backed off but now others have joined in. In many ways it is a sad thing to see.

Opposition members might not believe that I think it is sad. However I spent five years in opposition in Ontario. I happen to think the role of Her Majesty's loyal opposition is critical and very important to the functioning of any parliamentary democracy.

The opposition spends its time setting up a firing squad, getting in a circle and shooting inwardly. I do not know what it thinks it can possibly accomplish by that. It then comes here and tell us it has the solution. It says it will allow free votes and release all its members from any kind of party discipline. It then turns around the next day and boots half them out of caucus. Obviously the Canadian people would see, shall we say, inconsistencies in that regard.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Liberal Victoria, BC

Don't embarrass yourself.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Time will wind down, I am sure, and it is in the control of the Speaker. He will let me know when my time is up and the hon. members will have their opportunity if they so choose.

I will also share that between 1990 and the year 2000 in the Alberta legislature, with the obvious involvement of the current Leader of the Opposition, closure was used 36 times to cut short debate. The current Alliance leader admitted that at one point closure was invoked after one hour of debate. It was done not in response to filibustering on the part of the opposition but to prevent the possibility of delay. That is astounding.

Alliance members then have the nerve to come into this place and be obstreperous in an attempt to stop good legislation from going through. They stand and cry foul because the government has put in place a plan to ensure the legislation passes and carries the day. It is mind boggling. It is curious beyond belief to think they can stand there with any credibility whatsoever.

Having said that, I will try to be non-partisan and not get too excited. I congratulate the member on his motion. I support it and hope it passes. I am confident it will. I think it will make the lives of all members on all sides much better.

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4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member across the way saying something. He was going in all directions and discussing all kinds of things, so it took me a while to figure out what he was trying to say. I picked up a couple of points and will ask him to clarify them.

The hon. member alluded to his own private member's bill in the Ontario legislature and how it was, he said, passed in three days. However I am sure it was less than the pay increase the government moved through the House.

He said how great his bill was. The hon. member has been on the government side and could have easily worked hard to make sure the private member's bill was improved here. I would ask him if it is the practice of the Ontario legislature to have every private member's bill votable. If it is, I commend Ontario for having a good democracy. Perhaps the member can tell us about that. Are all private members' bills in the Ontario legislature votable?

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I am not 100% sure. Let me tell hon. members why. As I recall the private member's motion I passed was supported unanimously. Certainly other private members' bills came forward. The Ontario legislature does not have a lottery. I can tell the House that. Members do not have to sit and wait forever to get on the docket.

There are substantially smaller numbers in terms of the members of the legislature. The Ontario legislature has 103 members versus our 301, so it is a bit easier to manage. However all votes are votable on Thursday morning if members can get their items through the process.

What members of the Ontario legislature do not need to do is go before a committee of all members of the house and argue that their motions should be votable. Members must make sure their motions fall in line with the law, so they go through the legal department. The lawyers check it over to make sure it is in proper form and it can be put forward. I would honestly have to check as to whether or not it is a standard procedure to have them all votable. My memory, which fades as I grow older, tells me that most of them were voted on, and I think it is a standard procedure.

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4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, what a disappointment. A mind is a terrible thing to waste and so is a seat in the House and 20 minutes of parliamentary time. The member stood up and started and closed his remarks by saying that he would be non-partisan on a motion. I had just commended the government for supporting this initiative, as had the member for Elk Island, and what did we get? It was like a Texas bull; a point here, a point there and a whole lot of bull in between.

The member cannot even answer a simple question about his own legislature. I do not know if he even showed up there. Whether or not private members' bills are votable, does he not agree that this ought not to be a partisan issue?

Members opposite talk all the time about the need for parliamentary reform. We know that in the shadows and in the corridors they talk about their frustration with the great concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office. This is not a partisan comment. It is a systemic problem that applies to governments generally, not just this one.

When we finally get the opportunity to actually take back some power from the executive and put it back into the hands of the legislators, like the member from Mississauga, we get instead this kind of partisan rhetoric.

Does the member not think it would be more constructive and helpful if all members were to treat these questions in as non-partisan a fashion as humanly possible and if we work together to improve the practices of the House? Does he not believe that it would be a significant improvement in parliamentary democracy and would empower us to better represent our constituents if we had votable private members' bills?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the after dinner speaker. Compared to my normal approach, I thought I was very non-partisan. I do not know what they are upset about. I thought I was quite gentle and balanced in saying that I support the motion and I congratulated the member. It is just so hard not to fall into the trap, and I am sorry I did, of pointing out to Canadians the differences that occur between what members opposite say and what they actually do.

The fact is that they have a caucus that is imploding before the very eyes of all Canadians and the infighting is detracting them from doing their job in this place, which is to support motions like this. I say to the member who just asked the question that if members of his party could show me just once in one speech where they were non-partisan, maybe it would rub off and they would see a little more of it from me.

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4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to hear the hon. member speak in the House. I stumble when I say that at times.

The hon. member spoke about discipline in parties, particularly our party, the opposition, and he claimed that we wrangle in our dissidence and so on and so forth.

The truth speaks volumes on the other side when we actually see what takes place on the government benches. When there is a votable private members' business item in the House, all the members on the other side vote with the government regardless of how they feel. Discipline speaks volumes on that side and very rarely do we see those hon. members stand in this place.

If they feel that a private member's bill from this side or any side is worth supporting, do they actually put their money where their mouths are and stand? How many times has the hon. member actually voted in favour of an item of private members' business during the time that he has been here?

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always find it curious that people get upset when someone comes to Ottawa under a particular banner, in their case Reform, now Alliance and in our case Liberal. I am a member of the Liberal team and people should never be shocked that I support my team. It is most interesting to use the analogy of someone playing on my hockey team and shooting the puck into my net on purpose. I do not want that player on the ice any more.

It is pretty fundamental in our system that the vast majority of us, perhaps with the exception of the member for Wild Rose who wins 90% of the votes, come to this place as a result of the allegiance to the party for which we run. In fact individual members will influence between 5% and 8% of the vote.

It should come as no shock to any member that we wind up supporting the particular party for which we were elected in this place. I object to the criticism that we would not support things that are unusual or different. Many of my members over here have voted for private members' bills against the government.

The point is that the motion today would eliminate that issue and should eliminate it so that we can all stand and vote on what are private members' bills. That is why they are called private members' bills. We on all sides of the House should be able to make up our own minds on how we vote.