Mr. Speaker, the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough said that he talked to other House leaders and whips. As the House leader of the official opposition I have had no official meeting with that group about how they should sit in the House.
I had one phone call last Saturday evening from you, Mr. Speaker, about seating, to which I agreed. I have no disagreement with where they are sitting right now. I checked with my whip and he has had no official meeting. If you put the onus on yourself, it is the onus of that group and not of my party.
If you are at all tempted to grant this status and arrangement that the members of the DRC are seeking, you will be creating a parliamentary enigma in deciding a matter that is the proper decision of the House.
To comply with the member's request for a coalition, this group must be recognized as a separate entity. For official parliamentary purposes a separate entity can only be defined as a party. I will address the party issue first.
The concept of a political party, and particularly the funding of smaller political parties, is a relatively recent phenomenon. For example, in 1944 Prime Minister Mackenzie King argued that in consulting the opposition he was obliged only to deal with the leader of the opposition, not the leaders of other parties. He said, at page 554 of Hansard from February 16, 1944, “If the opposition wish to be divided into groups, that of course is their own affair”.
The granting of money to the leaders of smaller parties did not begin until 1963. It was also at that time that the so-called 12 member rule was established. It is here where I will begin examining some of the history of these types of requests.
In 1963, 13 members of the Social Credit Party split off and declared themselves a separate party under the name Ralliement créditiste. The matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections. In committee the issue was not treated merely as a matter of applying the 12 member rule but rather as one determining the validity of the claim by the Ralliement créditiste to be a political party.
The committee looked at the legal and electoral evidence that would support the Ralliement créditiste claim. The committee refrained from committing itself to a full definition of the requirement that would be needed to be met in order for a group to be recognized as a political party.
In the Canadian Journal of Political Science of March 1978 in reference to the 1963 case, John Courtney states “A pragmatic solution was brokered amongst the existing party and groups in the House”.
On page 33 of Marleau and Montpetit it states “Speakers have been clear in rulings that it is up to the House itself to decide such matters”. This references the 1963 case as well as February 18, 1966, October 11, 1979, November 6, 1979 and June 16, 1994.
On September 30, 1963, at pages 3008 and 3009 of Hansard , the Speaker explained it in this way:
I cannot conclude this statement without some reference to the significance of these events for the future of the definition and status of parties in this House. It is not my place to evaluate the significance of these matters for the future of every changing structure and character of political parties; yet it is my duty, I believe, to bring to the attention of the House the novel character of the situation now before it, and more particularly the payment of allowances and the effect on the organization of parliament and parties and of the work of this House that naturally must be reflected by the emergence from time to time of new groups that invite the House to accord them the status of parties. Profound constitutional questions arise; for example, can a group of members which did not exist as a party at the time of the election of a parliament be recognized as a party before it has submitted itself to the electorate?
There are few precise rules regarding the recognition of parties in the House. Much depends on the will of the House.
In 1988, when members of the Conservative and Liberal caucuses quit their parties to form the Bloc Quebecois, they were not granted party status even though they went on to register under the elections act and managed to have a representative elected in the 1990 byelection. They were denied party status because the House was guided by the 12 member rule.
On the other hand, in the 1974 general election the Ralliement créditiste were reduced to 11 members. Even though it did not qualify for a research budget it continued to receive funds because its members were elected in a general election and the House made that decision, not the Speaker.
The first step in becoming a registered party under the elections act is the application process. There are a number of items to be included in the application such as the names, addresses and signatures of 100 electors and the names and addresses of party officers and the leader. Once a party has become eligible it becomes registered after it has obtained candidates whose nomination has been confirmed in 50 electoral districts. So far the DRC does not qualify under the elections act as a party.
It should also be noted that these requirements under the act are fairly new. They were made with the passage of Bill C-9, which received royal assent on June 14, 2001.
If anyone wants to know how the majority of members in this parliament might feel about the issue of a party status, they need to look no further than to the recent changes to the elections act. The passage of Bill C-9 made it more difficult for small fringe parties to emerge and be recognized under the elections act.
It would be inconsistent for the House to make it more difficult for small fringe parties to be recognized through the elections act and easier through the parliamentary procedure.
Another aspect of the law to consider is the bylaws of the House, specifically bylaw 302. This bylaw defines a recognized party as a party recognized by the House that has 12 or more persons elected to the House as members of that party.
The members of the DRC, by their own admission, are not an official party. According to the elections act they are not a party. The recent decision by the House with the passage of Bill C-9 would suggest there is no appetite to make them a party. Pursuant to the bylaws of the House of Commons they do not qualify as a party.
Without party status, they cannot apply for a coalition arrangement with a recognized party. The reason is that there is nothing official to coalesce with. We cannot expect the Speaker to depart from convention and grant this group special status.
In the September 30, 1963 Hansard , at page 3008, in reference to the 1963 party status debate, the Speaker stated:
It is not one where the Speaker ought by himself to take a position where any group of members might feel that their interests as a group or a party have been prejudiced. Nor should the Speaker be put in the position where he must decide, to the advantage or to the disadvantage of any group or party, matters affecting the character or existence of a party, for this surely would signify that the Speaker had taken what was almost a political decision.
As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the members of the DRC are still card carrying Canadian Alliance members. What political party will they claim to belong to when asked?
If that question were put to the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River, for example, his response would be “I am a card carrying member of the Alliance Party. In parliament I am a member of the democratic representative caucus, and the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has just appointed me whip”. The hon. member is obviously suffering from some multiple parliamentary party disorder.
Most political parties would find it unacceptable for any of its members to be part of another federal party or caucus. It was not that long ago that former Liberal cabinet minister Doug Young bought a membership in the Canadian Alliance. The Liberal Party leadership reacted quickly and revoked Mr. Young's Liberal membership.
If members get ejected from their party, that should be as a result of the decisions of the political players involved. A Speaker's decision should not be the cause for a member's ejection from a party.
It could be argued that either way your decision may bring about a political action. The possible result of your not granting the members the status they desire could be that they quit the Canadian Alliance altogether in order to better qualify for special status. The difference is this: maintaining the status quo is the traditional position taken by Speakers.
I will go back to when the Reform Party was tied with the Bloc Quebecois in the House with 50 members each. The Reform Party asked to be the official opposition because it represented provinces right across Canada and the Bloc represented only one province. The Tories of that day, there were two of them, could have joined and made that a better argument. It was not to their advantage at the time so they did not try to do that to make sure that the opposition in Canada was a party that would represent all of Canada.
The same party, with the House leader for the Conservative Party who has just made his argument without any precedents, which I find amazing for a lawyer, lost five Tories in the last parliament. I did not hear them get up once and offer the Canadian Alliance a few more questions in question period, or the Liberals who gained four of the five members. They kept the same number of questions. That was the rule at the start of that parliament and it was the rule at the finish of that parliament. They cannot have it both ways.
You should not feel responsible for what may happen, Mr. Speaker, if you turn down the member's request. If a preacher refused to marry a couple because one was already married, the preacher could not be responsible if a divorce resulted in his decision.
On the other hand, he would feel very responsible for the sequence of events that followed a decision to marry the couple. I will put that aside for now, Mr. Speaker, and ask you to consider another point.
Assuming that all the conditions were met to entertain a request for a coalition, it is up to the Speaker to unilaterally allow a party to form a coalition with another party. I would argue that it would be a departure from convention for the Speaker to make a decision on behalf of the House. It would be a giant departure from convention to allow small group without party status to form a coalition with any party in the House.
The only coalition at the national level in Canada was Sir Robert Borden's 1917 union government. Faced with strong opposition to conscription and with other major difficulties during World War I, Borden brought several conscriptionist liberals into his government. The political party system has come a long way since 1917. The groups in 1917 were not vying for funding and increased resources. It was a matter of a coalition government, the first world war and the issue of conscription. It was not an issue of organizing or re-organizing the opposition. A coalition is necessary to govern but certainly not necessary to oppose.
As I said in my argument regarding the party's status, the concept of a political party, and particularly the funding of smaller political parties, is a relatively recent phenomenon. The granting of money to the leaders of small parties did not begin until 1963. Even if the members of the DRC had the so-called magic number of 12, they are not registered under the Canada Elections Act. There must be some cohesion between parliamentary law and the common law with respect to party recognition.
Before I wrap up I want to discuss briefly the issue of other jurisdictions because we are members of the Commonwealth and we have taken our lead all through the centuries from the mothers of all parliaments.
The funding of opposition parties in the U.K. is based upon votes received in the last general election. This is known as Short money, so named after a previous leader of the House. The DRC received zero votes in the last election. According to the practice of the United Kingdom they should receive zero money and zero consideration.
In New Zealand the rules regarding party status and coalitions are spelled out a little clearer in their standing orders. The relevant standing orders of the New Zealand house of representatives are as follows. Standing order 34(1) states that every party in whose interest a member was elected at the preceding general election or at any subsequent byelection is entitled to be recognized as a party for parliamentary purposes. Members who cease to be members of the party for which they were originally elected may be recognized as a party for parliamentary purposes if they apply to the speaker and their new party is registered as a registered party by the electoral commission. Once again, even if the DRC had 12 members they would not qualify.
Standing order 35(2) from New Zealand deals with a coalition. It says that a coalition between two or more parties must be notified to the speaker but each party to the coalition remains a separate party for parliamentary purposes. Again, the DRC does not qualify as a party in the House.
In Australia, coalitions have been an important part of Australian political life since the 1920s. In 1923 a nationalist party coalition government was formed which lasted until 1929. Since that time most non-labour governments have been coalitions between the major conservative party and Australia's rural party. As with the New Zealand example, each party to the coalition remains a separate party for parliamentary purposes. The DRC would not have a chance in the Australian parliament either. The same concept holds true for the U.K.
The other consideration is that coalitions are creatures of governments, not opposition. We can debate these examples from other jurisdictions all we want. The bottom line is that the Speaker has clear Canadian precedence and has no choice but to rule that it is the House that must decide this matter. The House could consider the New Zealand, Australia or U.K. models if it wanted. It could choose not to decide at all and maintain the status quo. That is its prerogative.
Maybe the House should seriously consider the private member's bill sponsored by one of the members from the DRC, the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt. In his February 21 press release that launched one of his many initiatives, he said that the bill would end official party status in the House of Commons for political parties with less than 30 seats or without representation from at least three provinces or territories.
For several years parliament's time has been wasted on fringe political parties that are not national in their effectiveness or appeal. With 4% of seats in parliament, the NDP and Progressive Conservatives do not deserve the financial resources that go along with official party status. Maybe the member has changed his mind.
In conclusion, I would like to comment briefly on the impact of the minor fluctuations in the size of party issue in the course of a parliament. Since 1963, when funding for parties began, parliamentary resources for parties remained stable, regardless of any change in the numbers of each party. Even when there was significant fluctuation, resources would not be distributed. I use the example that I mentioned earlier, the Conservatives in the last parliament lost five members. They did not ask to have their numbers reduced, their questions reduced.
There were other examples. In 1983 and 1984 the Liberals went from 147 to 135 elected members. In the 34th parliament the Conservatives went from 169 down to 151 elected members. Despite these changes, resources remained stable. In the 35th parliament we had a situation where a tie occurred between the two largest opposition parties. In that situation the Reform Party claimed the title of official opposition. The Speaker ruled that the status quo be maintained, preserving the Bloc Quebecois as the official opposition.
As Speaker MacNaughton said, the Speaker should not be put in the position where he must decide to the advantage or disadvantage of any group or party or that would signify that the Speaker has taken what is almost a political decision.
In the U.K. during the passage of the European Community's finance bill, 1994-95, the Conservatives expelled eight MPs, with a ninth voluntarily resigning. With this change, the government lost its majority. The House debated the composition of standing committees on January 11, 1995. It concluded that the composition of the committees would not have to be altered. There were no further repercussions over this situation.
In conclusion, the present distribution of resources for the opposition parties must be maintained. An official coalition between the PC Party and the DRC cannot be entertained because the DRC has nothing official to bring to the table with which to coalesce. The DRC can only be recognized officially as independent members for parliamentary purposes.
I am not saying that parties, groups and independents cannot co-operate with each other in parliament. It is far from that. They are welcome to co-operate all they wish. In fact, the Alliance co-operated with all opposition parties in the last parliament. The Reform Party co-operated with other parties in the parliament before that. It could be said that technically the opposition is always setting up a coalition of parties for the purposes of opposing the government with the leader of the opposition taking centre stage. Our rules would appear to reflect that.
We have two principal leaders in the House: the Prime Minister, who leads the government, and the Leader of the Opposition, who leads the opposition. To boldly recognize the arrangement being sought today would be a departure from our practice. Accordingly, the matter should be left for the House to decide, not the Speaker.