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House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Bloc motion which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

The motion itself has been amended to include the caveat that the reference to committee should be made before the appointment is finalized. I will return to that amendment later.

When I first received notice of this motion, I was quite surprised because the standing orders already require that all order in council appointments be tabled in Parliament. They are then referred to standing committees for review where necessary, when the committees decide to review them. The current standing orders are more comprehensive than what the Bloc is proposing for us today. I do not understand why the Bloc is advocating changes to the standing orders that would weaken parliamentary scrutiny of appointments.

The sections of the standing orders dealing with government appointments can be found, as we have heard several times today, in Standing Orders 110 and 111.

Standing Order 110 requires that all non-judicial order in council appointments must be tabled within five sitting days after the order is published in the Canada Gazette . Under the standing order, the appointments are automatically deemed to be referred to the appropriate standing committee for review.

Standing Order 111 goes on to specify that committees have up to 30 sitting days to review the qualifications and competence of the appointee or nominee. Standing Order 111 also requires ministers to provide the curriculum vitae of the appointee to the committee.

As we can see, the House of Commons has procedures in place already to allow government appointments to receive parliamentary scrutiny. In fact approximately 4,300 appointments have been tabled since the government was elected in 1993. Parliamentary committees have been free to scrutinize any and all of these appointments.

Let me return to the motion itself which proposes amendments to the standing orders. I would like to give one reason that demonstrates why this motion would weaken our standing orders.

Under our current practice all appointments of deputy ministers are tabled in the House. The appropriate committee has the opportunity to review the appointment. This is an effective tool for committees as deputy ministers of course provide important advice to ministers and have significant influence over the direction and operation of their departments.

This in fact was identified in the McGrath committee report which led to the procedure for parliamentary review of government appointments. The McGrath report stated:

Although deputy ministers have great power, they can be closely scrutinized by their ministers who are accountable to Parliament. Nevertheless, most deputy ministers exercise wide discretion, and their predisposition to administer in a given way will affect the direction of their departments. Given the expanded role of standing committees in examining government operations, the appointment of a new deputy minister is a significant event, the implications of which should be subject to question by the appropriate standing committee.

Today's motion put forward by the Bloc would not allow parliamentary review of deputy minister appointments. I do not understand why the Bloc would want to do that. I do not understand why the Bloc would propose that the role of the House should be diminished in this way. It makes no sense.

I believe that parliamentary scrutiny supports the transparent selection of qualified candidates for senior government positions. The government supports the parliamentary scrutiny requirement provided under the standing order. It is an important requirement. It makes sense to have that requirement in the standing orders.

The government has taken additional measures to improve the appointment process. For example, professional human resources management techniques are being used to assist in the selection of candidates for many full time, fixed term positions. Since November 1993 134 advertisements have been placed in the Canada Gazette and/or other publications.

The McGrath report noted that parliamentary scrutiny of government appointments “was by far the most difficult” of all the subjects the committee considered.

The committee conducted an extensive review of this matter, which was part of a broader review of parliamentary reform. Of course among us who work on Parliament Hill the review is quite famous. We are all familiar with the McGrath committee's report.

Proposals to significantly change these procedures should be subject to similar scrutiny and review and should not be done in a piecemeal manner, as is being proposed today. They should be done as a part of a review just like the McGrath committee. We have seen other committees like that. More recently there has been the committee on modernization of the House which put forward and brought to us some significant important improvements to the way the work of this House is conducted.

Members should understand that these matters should not be entered into lightly. Like many other members on all sides of the House, I have tremendous respect for this institution and its rules. Those rules are based on almost 800 years of parliamentary history. Changes to them need to be considered carefully.

I would think that what the Bloc proposes is an idea that could be discussed by an all party modernization committee, as is being considered these days. As I understand it, the possibility of further modernization committees is one this side is open to. I hope we will see one coming forward in the near term.

I reiterate that a piecemeal system of change is not the way for anyone to go. If the objection from any quarter is the concentration of power in one place or another, then it must be the culture that has to change.

As for the amendment proposed by our colleagues across the way, it was an admission of defeat of sorts. The Bloc has been forced to amend its own motion mostly because it realizes that as it stood, the point was moot. We already have that rule, so what is the point of it? In its haste to make the debate relevant again, the Bloc has walked into a notion that was already the subject of public debate.

The issue of what appointments should be reviewed and by whom is one that has to be considered in a broader context, by a broader committee. For example, what would happen during long recess periods like January and the summer months? Would the government not be permitted to replace people who had left boards? If someone was deceased or his or her term expired, we would not be able to replace them. That does not make much sense because there is important work on these boards that has to go on.

It is important questions like these that need consideration, that need study by a group of MPs, by a parliamentary review committee. We need a broader study than one supply day motion. This is not the way to do it.

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Yukon.

In conclusion, today's motion by the Bloc would actually weaken parliamentary scrutiny of appointments. This would be unfortunate since scrutiny of government appointments is an important function of this House, an important mechanism for members of Parliament to hold the government accountable. Therefore, I do not support the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to raise two points. First, how can the Parliamentary Secretary of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons say that Standing Orders 110 and 111 already cover those two points. While the motion by the Bloc refers to automatic referrals, Standing Orders 111(1) and (2) use the conditional. It cannot be automatic on one side and conditional on the other, as it is in subsection 111(1), which reads, referring to committees, “If it deems it appropriate”, or subsection 111(2) which reads, “If it should call an appointee”. There is nothing automatic there. It is all conditional.

Second, I would like the parliamentary secretary to tell us, if this House is the best of all possible worlds, and if the system is transparent and works well, why his colleague from LaSalle—Émard propose—it cannot be said that I did not read the speech, because I have it here in front of me—in which he said that, at present, to solve problems in this House, one had to answer only one question, “Who do you know in the PMO?”

How does the hon. member justify his position, according to which everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, when his colleague from LaSalle—Émard talks about the necessity of a democratic and institutional renewal?

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, we have seen that the Bloc has had it wrong all day long. We have been hearing all day long about the comments of the member for LaSalle—Émard. Members have been picking out a few of his comments and have been ignoring the rest. They have ignored the fact that he talked about the need to turn to a parliamentary committee for direction on the matter being proposed in today's motion and not do it piecemeal.

As I have set out in my comments, it is important that we do this in a proper way with a committee reviewing the rules in total, not just one at a time. That is what he is recommending in relation to this issue. I do not know why the Bloc is refusing to recognize that fact and is trying to pick a little here and there of what the hon. former finance minister had to say about this topic. It baffles me.

On the question of the motion, I have to wonder whether the Bloc is really suggesting that we scrutinize the hundreds and hundreds of people a year who are appointed to boards. I talked earlier about the fact that since 1993, 4,300 appointments have gone through the House. Committees could have reviewed them but chose not to. Is the member really suggesting that committees meet with every single one of them and spend the time that will be required for that?

I think that the standing orders already cover this provision, as I have said. They cover the kinds of things that the Bloc is looking for in today's motion. The motion really is redundant.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, as usual the hon. member made a fantastic presentation on this point. It is obvious from the debate over the course of the day that the opposition will be joining forces against the government in voting on this motion.

Can the member confirm if former premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard was appointed as ambassador by the then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney? Did former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appoint Stephen Lewis as Canadian ambassador to the UN? Did our Prime Minister appoint former Prime Minister Kim Campbell as consul general to Los Angeles? Did they use the same regulations as are used today regarding the nominations and appointments of consuls general or ambassadors? The question is, have we changed the rules?

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am going to try to provide an accurate reply.

It is certainly an interesting combination of appointees. I think most Canadians would probably have a more favourable view of the last two than the first one.

On the question of when the rules changed, other members here may recall exactly, but I have in my mind that the McGrath committee report came out in 1989. There were changes that followed, but by the time the Liberals came into government in 1993 the changes were already made. They would have applied certainly to the appointment of Kim Campbell. I think they would have applied to Stephen Lewis as well, but I do not think they would have applied when Brian Mulroney appointed Lucien Bouchard as ambassador to France. That is my understanding.

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5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague from Halifax West. I agree with a lot of the things he said. It was an excellent submission, especially the point about the 800 years in developing a parliamentary procedure and that we should be careful in what changes we make.

I would like to muse on the strategy the opposition parties have come up with for opposition days this fall. Last week we debated a motion from the Alliance when members explained they would like to debate “a new idea” from the member for LaSalle—Émard. Rather than debate one of their own ideas, they wanted to debate another Liberal new idea. Today we see that Bloc members once again have made a great point all day that they would like to debate “another new idea” of the Liberals, an idea from the member for LaSalle—Émard.

Most of the motions coming from a majority government are Liberal ideas which we promote and debate, but now the opposition has decided to give their days back. In the time that they have to promote their ideas of how they will be a government in waiting, we also get to debate new Liberal ideas. It is devastating.

In the spirit of collegiality I encourage my cher collègues to keep coming up with good ideas so that the opposition can press forward with this strategy right to the bitter end.

I would like to talk about today's motion but first I will read it into the record.

The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

On December 5, 1984, the special committee on the reform of the House of Commons, the McGrath committee, was appointed to examine the powers, procedures, practices, organizations and facilities of the House of Commons. Among the recommendations it ultimately came up with was that committees should be authorized to review non-judicial order in council appointments or in some cases nominations for appointment.

As a result, under Standing Orders 110 and 111 of the House of Commons, non-judicial order in council appointments are automatically referred to the appropriate standing committee within five days for consideration. The committee may call the nominee or appointee before it during the subsequent 30-day period to review his or her qualifications for the post. The committee may report recommendations to the House, but in keeping with the recommendations of the McGrath committee it does not have the power to confirm or reject the appointment.

In essence, the resolution today is confirming that procedure and reinforcing it. I do not have a problem with that. That is confirmed in a statement made on February 19, 2002, by the member for Mercier:

In the case of any political appointment, the committee may ask to give its approval regarding the experience and expertise of the appointee to perform the duties of his job.

This is an article from the Canadian Press .

I have no problem in supporting the motion and the system that basically is in place.

The Standing Orders currently allow for a review of order in council appointments. Since 1994 there have been over 4,300 such appointments and the committee has rarely used this power except when there was significant publicity. I would like to commend the former members of Parliament for using this power judiciously, for not having the types of circuses that occasionally occur in American congressional hearings that go on and on, and which do not serve the purposes that a rational review is meant to accomplish.

While we are talking about appointments, I want to make a clarification on another bill we are reviewing, Bill C-2. There was an issue related to appointments to a board in that particular bill. One of the members of Her Majesty's loyal opposition was concerned that there might be problems with these government appointments because of the significant major powers of this board.

The member may have had some bad experiences in the past related to this and so has concerns. For clarification, and I said this on CBC radio last night as well, this particular board has only seven members and only one is appointed by the minister free and clear. The rest are nominated by other organizations. That may be a generic debate related to boards totally appointed by the Government of Canada. In this particular case it is not relevant because only one in seven of the members is appointed by the government.

A number of members from all the parties today have talked about various aspects of government reform that have been discussed in the House. I want to talk about private members' bills because there are a number of members who have been concerned about various aspects of it. I probably have a different view than many members. In promoting private members' business and making it more successful, we must increase the respect that parliamentarians have for the people who work in the departments and vice versa. They must also increase their respect for us so that we can get good policy into private members' bills.

If I come up with an idea in an area in which I am not an expert, I go to the experts who have spent careers on that particular area. Some members do this and that is great. The experts have checked out various legislation in other countries that is similar. They have checked the pros and cons, and consulted people. They have done legal checks. They have done all sorts of research on a particular area and if members can say that they have dealt with it, consulted on it and looked at it, then people would give more credibility to the initiatives.

On the other side, the people in the departments too have to respect that every member in the House is a representative of the people. They have been elected by the people to put forward the wishes of the people. When members, no matter which party they are from, come up with ideas or suggestions which more often than not probably emanated from the people, then the people who have designed the bill should be able to answer the questions. They should be able to come up with the reasons why the bill should stay as it is or make appropriate changes.

We need to increase that dialogue. Everyone would have more respect and more confidence in the product that comes out. Perhaps we could have more progress in private members' business.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, it has been said numerous times that our political party misunderstood the ideas of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. I will read them in full and ask my colleague to comment on them. They go as follows, and I quote:

Fifth, the process for government appointments has to be reformed. The unfettered powers of appointment enjoyed by a prime minister are too great. From ambassadors and consuls-general to regulatory agencies to museum boards and the list goes on. Such authority must be checked by reasonable scrutiny conducted by Parliament in a transparent fashion. Some senior government appointments should undergo public review. The decision should continue to rest finally with the government so that the process does not drag out. Nevertheless, qualifications of the candidates should be examined by the responsible standing committee before the appointments are confirmed.

These are the exact words of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. So, does the member for Yukon agree with the proposals I have just quoted made by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard? Yes or no?

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the excellent and thoughtful question. My understanding though is in relation to the suggestions from the member for LaSalle—Émard and as I said at the beginning, I am delighted we are discussing Liberal suggestions.

The six suggestions that came out were put forward to be discussed at further length. They were ideas that had come forward from all sides of the House, but they were not the final, cast in stone decisions of these serious matters.

As the member from Halifax West said, when we are dealing with procedures, some that have been in place for 800 years, we must be careful to ensure what would work as opposed to in one afternoon's discussion change them. I am not opposed to a discussion to look at all the ramifications and a committee analysis to see where it leads.

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5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member congratulated the member from Halifax for his speech. I wonder if he agrees with the member from Halifax that we cannot fix some of the weaknesses in Parliament piecemeal, that it has to be done in one giant move. That is one of the most ridiculous statements I have heard, especially from a parliamentary secretary to the House leader in many a day.

This place only changes piecemeal and incrementally. The proposal we have today talks, at least in theory, about the necessity to balance the power of the PMO with the balance of parliamentarians. However, the first amendment to the Standing Orders by the government in this Parliament was to restrict the ability of opposition members to bring amendments at report stage. A single amendment to the Standing Orders that it forced through, not a holistic change to how we handle legislation, simply a move to restrict the power of the opposition, and strengthen the hand of the government. It was one move in isolation that had one purpose only, to strengthen the government and weaken the opposition.

Does the member believe that the member from Halifax was right, that we cannot change things around here until we change everything or does he believe, as I do and most parliamentarians should, that we should make changes incrementally or do not make changes at all?

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I do not necessarily agree with the member that the only way of making changes is incremental or not making them at all. The points we must consider are the various ramifications on the other elements of the system when a particular change is made. For example, if a new part for a car is invented, it is related to the workings of the rest of the car and it has to fit in. When we make a change, whether it is for good or bad, there are also changes made one by one on certain other things. I am hopeful that members of Parliament will give careful consideration to the effects and ramifications on the other parts of the system when they make such changes.

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5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, the member made reference to the McGrath report. It recommended that the government make appointments but that they would be held up to scrutiny. How can an appointment be scrutinized or anything be scrutinized if we are working in a committee where the chair is appointed by the Prime Minister to do as the Prime Minister wishes?

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the chair does not make the decisions of the committee, the whole committee does. If the committee, as an instrument of Parliament, has a majority of members from one party on it, it is because the people elected a majority of people from that party so it is just another expression of the will of the people.

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5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Today we have an interesting debate. I had wished that the debate today would have revolved around, not just the specifics of the motion, which is important enough, but around the actual balance of power that members on all sides of the House think there should be between the Prime Minister's Office, the executive branch of government and the rest of Parliament. In other words, what is the proper role for parliamentarians, for the executive and for the Prime Minister and his office, and how do we bring those into balance?

I would argue that the motion today is an effort to bring back into balance what the member for LaSalle—Émard properly said is a problem, a democratic deficit here in the House of Commons, which is who do you know in the PMO, to give the cute little phrase that the member for LaSalle—Émard will probably try to campaign on. In reality, what we are trying to debate here today and what we should be getting at I hope in the long run is finding the proper balance.

I would argue that the role of parliamentarians is to ride herd on the executive branch and specifically on the leader of the country. Members of Parliament are not sent here simply to pare at the party line, to vote when they are told to or to go to committee and do as the whip bids. They are here to exercise their judgment and balance off the large amount of power that is given to the Prime Minister and cabinet, and to do so in a way that represents their constituents' wishes. Also, this takes away any of the excesses and takes any of kind of extreme position out of what the government might do and brings it back into something that would be palatable to all parts of the country and every riding.

What we have here today is a motion that says that before government appointments are confirmed, such as ambassadors, consul generals, heads of regulatory bodies and so on, the nominees should be checked by a committee of peers here in the House of Commons to make sure they pass mustard.

What we would have then have, I hope, is a balance between the government's ability to govern and its necessity to move in and fill positions allowing it to put managers and leadership in place to get through its important work in all parts of the country. Hopefully, on our part, we would check those appointments to make sure they were based on merit and on the good of the country, not based on paying somebody off, helping a friend or putting a family member into a position of authority. I do not see anything wrong with that if that is what our job is, and certainly it is at least that in part.

Therefore I see nothing wrong with the motion and the amendment which directs that before appointments are confirmed they should go through a committee and the committee should be able to recommend to Parliament whether it thinks it is an appropriate appointment or not. This is not revolutionary. It follows a theme that many members on both sides of the House have tried to develop over, I would say, the last four or five years especially.

For example, the 51st report of the procedure and House affairs committee was a report that dealt with the business of supply, the business of how much money is being spent and the way that we as parliamentarians can ride herd on that to make sure it is spent properly. The 51st report suggested that we should have a balance. The government proposes a budget. The government must get a budget through because it is a business of supply. It pays the bills and it pays the pension cheques. It is the supply of money for all government services and goods. However we in parliament also have a role to make sure it is spent properly and in the the best way possible.

The 51st report of the procedure and House affairs committee suggested that the way to do that was to allow parliamentarians to move money around within departments. For example, if there is an envelope of money for advanced education we may ask to see more of it put into perhaps the construction of universities or some such thing. Other members may want it to go more toward student loans.

The 51st report says that government should allow members of Parliament to bring their expertise to bear and move the money within the department to make it a better budgetary proposal than the government had by itself.

All parties agreed to that but what happened? The government would not allow that to come forth. The former minister of finance is mum on this. Is that not where the real power is? Is it not in the ability to control spending, to move it around and to say to the government that it does not have the only word on it? It may have the final word but we in Parliament want to make recommendations that will allow parliamentarians to have a meaningful role in how this country is governed.

Another example is the 66th report of the standing committee dealing with private members' bills. It says that we should not be beholden to the government to okay which of the bills it thinks is a nice one, a good one and one on which it is willing to vote. It should be up to the House to decide.

All members of the House on both sides came up with an all party unanimous report called the 66th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The members said that the government should not be allowed to finagle this, that it should be something for members decide. What happened to that report? It did not pass because the government in the front bench, not the backbenchers who are here listening to this today, the front bench on which there are none, did not want to see it because it would take it out of the hands of--

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Perhaps you may want to remind the hon. member that we do not refer to the absence or presence of members in the Chamber.

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5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sure the hon. member for Fraser Valley is aware of that rule since he has been in the House long enough.

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5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I thought when I referred to all of them together I could get away with that but I see I cannot.

Let me continue with the 66th report. This should also tell people something. A lot of reports come out of this Parliament and every parliament. The 66th report, which means a few have come and gone before it, is a unanimous all party report on private members' bills, but what happened? The government front bench would not allow it to go forward because it would level the playing field.

It was interesting to hear what the member for LaSalle—Émard had to say about that report during his democratic deficit speech which he started to muse about . He said “We cannot have a system where members are basically told how to vote by the government. That is preposterous, especially for private members' business, especially when it comes to the business of money”. What did he do? On the 27 private members' bills that dealt with the Department of Finance, he voted against 24 of them when he was the minister of finance.

In other words, the front bench, including the former front bench, is not really interested in balancing the power between the executive and the rest of us, and yet that is what the debate should really be about tonight. The rest of us were sent here not to bleat like sheep or vote like machines. We were sent here to balance the power and ride herd on the executive so Canadians have the best possible government.

The motion before us today is a step in the right direction but it is only one of many things that should be done.

We put out two documents called Building Trust and Building Trust II. I get a bit of a lark from the member over there who says that all these good ideas came from the Liberal side of the House. I invite him to read Building Trust II. Building Trust is a document put out by the Canadian Alliance that describes many points that would improve the House of Commons. When they were brought forward, the member will be happy to know or perhaps he forgets it, the House leader stood up and said “Preposterous, ridiculous ideas that could not possibly be implemented in the House of Commons”. These are the good ideas that the hon. member is now endorsing.

There are about 10 suggestions in the document and 3 of them have now come to pass, three preposterous, ridiculous ideas that the Alliance put forward. A fourth one was approved today, which is the secret ballot election of committee chairs. It was a ridiculous, preposterous idea but it has now come to pass. Why? Maybe there was dissension in the ranks on that side. It is a poor reason but we are happy to see it because we are seeing some parliamentary reform for the first time. For the first time we are seeing that there is not enough fear of the front bench to keep the back bench in line. Now we have secret ballot elections of committee chairs which was something we have asked for it for years.

If we pass the motion today it would be number five. It would be right in line with what the member for LaSalle—Émard wants to have by the way, which is a committee review of government appointments before they are confirmed and finalized. I say to the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, right on. He is barking up the right tree because that is right in the document, Building Trust, brought in by the Canadian Alliance.

Canadians will only get the full Building Trust complement of ideas when they elect a Canadian Alliance government committed, not in the midst of a leadership campaign, but in its policy books since the creation of the party to bring forward true parliamentary reform for all Canadians, to rebalance the federation and rebalance Parliament between the power of the front bench and the rest of parliamentarians who deserve to have a proper role in the House of Commons.

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5:45 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, it is good to see the member back on his feet again participating in the debate. It is always interesting. I think his closing comment, which he repeated a couple of times, was about balancing the power on the front bench with the rest of us.

That statement ignores the reality of parliamentary democracy, which is that there is a partisan dimension to it. During the member's speech, and maybe he would like to comment on this, he suggested somehow that committees needed more power but member knows very well that 80% of the committees of the Parliament of Canada do not review the estimates and do not report them back to the House. They are deemed to be reported back and that Parliament, by its actions, including that party, have abandoned probably 50% of its responsibilities.

Committees have rights and responsibilities and it is not simply electing a chair. The member knows very well that in a parliamentary democracy parties run in elections. They have platforms, leaders and philosophies, and, by their very nature, bring to this place a partisan environment. The member, who has been on the procedure and House affairs committee in the past, knows very well that there is a lot of negotiating, a lot of trade-offs, a lot of levering and a lot of other activities, like instead of those committees dealing with the estimates, they deal with them during question period and try to grill a minister rather than to address the estimates.

Maybe the member should comment on the realities of partisanship and comment on whether or not the committees now in fact have earned the right to take on more responsibility when it is clear that the committees have been used as an instrument of partisanship all along.

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5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I am not sure exactly what the question is but I invite the member to read the speech, which is not a bad speech, by the member for LaSalle—Émard.

The member for LaSalle—Émard said “legislation is sent to committees after the cement has set”. On private members' business he said “the existing system is so weak that it is laughable”. He also said “standing committees should be overhauled because they need more independence and expanded authority”. Why is that? It is because now they do not have it.

Why do members not use their existing powers to review the business of supply? What is the point? We get tired of it. It is like whack a gopher at the fair. When we stick our head up after the ninth, tenth or fifteenth time of having it beat down into the ground we have to say ourselves that it is not very productive. The government does not allow us to move a single dollar. Not one dollar can be moved from one part of the department to the next. If we bring it back to the House, what happens? The entire bunch of them over there get up on their hind legs and say whatever the minister wants and then reverts it all back to the original.

That member over there is one of the worst because he will lobby us behind the scenes and then vote with the government when he gets a chance.

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5:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Madam Speaker, I do not think we have to take any lessons on bolting from the member for Fraser Valley.

I do admit that the Canadian Alliance Party has brought forward some interesting reforms and ideas, and some should be adopted. One of them was the question of recall. In other words, if members violated their own oath and some of the promises that they made as party members and members of Parliament they would be recalled, pulled back into the constituencies and no longer be members of Parliament.

Is he willing to do that on the pension issue that he ran against? Why do they not talk about recall where every one of them swallowed themselves whole and did a double backflip on the pension issue? Let us talk about recall if we are talking about reforming this House. Will he stand by his word to be recalled as a member of Parliament on the pension issue?

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5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to note that the member likes to get on his high horse about this issue of recall. What is interesting is that I have absolutely no problem with the position on recall. If citizens want to initiate a recall, we should let them do it.

With regard to the pension issue that the member keeps bringing up, I did go to my people. I commissioned a pole in my riding. I had a public meeting in my riding. I had consultations with my membership. Even after all of that, if there was a move to recall, I think all members should be subjected to that if necessary.

A was document brought forward at the assembly of the member's party which held in Edmonton. It was something I had a chance to help create. His party was in favour of recall until it got to the party's convention and then it backed down. That is a shame.

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5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I compliment the Bloc Quebecois for its motion. Let us talk about the reality in Canada today and why this motion came about.

The expectations of Canadians when they elect a member of Parliament, they expect that person to come to the House and be free to intervene, implement legislation, affect legislation and fight for their concerns.

The reality is that we have a prime ministerial autocracy, an elected dictatorship. Parliament is controlled by the Prime Minister and the people in the Prime Minister's Office. Even the frontbench is powerless and is more like a collective focus group than individuals who can use their individual and collective talents to fight for the concerns of Canadians and their particular ministries. That is really sad.

The situation has become worse because there is no so-called democracy anywhere else in the world that has as much power centralized in one office, the Prime Minister's Office; not in Great Britain, the United States, nowhere. We have a Prime Minister that has powers more in keeping with a president without the internal checks and balances that a presidential system has. That makes Canada one sick democracy.

We need to change that. If we do not, then the ability for Canadians to vote for people who they want to send to the House to fight for their concerns will be gone. That is the situation we have today where the MPs do not have the power to represent their constituents. Even if they are in cabinet, the Prime Minister controls what happens in cabinet, tells the ministers what to say, what to do and when to do it. It is one person and a group of unelected people.

Part of this has to do with the way we select our Prime Minister. The prime minister is not selected by the members within the party. The person is selected by a small group within the party to become the leader of the party. The prime minister is not chosen by the people of our country.

The other point is the interface between the public and legislation. Personally I find this extremely disturbing and utterly disheartening. When we sit in committee, where the public has a chance to interact with members of Parliament and put forth constructive suggestions to change legislation, what happens is a sham. I will explain why.

When we attend committees, we deal with legislation or study issues. Members of the public who are learned, intent and focused come up with some fantastic suggestions and hopefully we adopt some of those suggestions for the public good. What is the reality? The reality is that we spend a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of effort putting together documents with constructive suggestions that can help the public. Those studies get one day of press, then they are tossed into some warehouse to collect dust, never to be seen or heard from again, never to be implemented.

I will give some examples. We all know that the Kirby commission and the Romanow commission, supported by the Prime Minister, have been tasked to look for solutions to deal with the most important issue affecting Canadians; our health care system. However remember that in 1995 the Prime Minister put together a blue ribbon panel to address health care. Whatever became of that report? Whatever became of the solutions from that blue ribbon panel? Absolutely nothing.

Whatever came of the $60 million royal commission on aboriginal affairs, a thick document with umpteen good suggestions that could have addressed one of the most underprivileged and most needy groups within Canada, who desperately need our help? That document had solutions which needed to be implemented years ago for the betterment of these people? They are crying out for help. It is being used as little more than a doorstop in certain people's offices or is sitting in a room somewhere.

The bottom line is these reports, which cost the Canadian taxpayer millions of dollars and thousands of hours of time for people in the House and staff who work very hard to put these documents together, go absolutely nowhere because the Prime Minister's office is not concerned with the public good. It is concerned with polls.

The bottom line in Canadian politics is a structure controlled by the Prime Minister's office and the unelected people within that office, individuals who are primarily concerned with where they are in the polls and not with the public good. Where is the public good in all this? They prefer to study issues rather than deal with them. I call that one of the greatest diseases we have in the House, “study-itis”.

We have problems in Canada, some small, some large, some that are relatively benign, some that effect the lives of people and some that will cost the lives of people through our inaction.

There are solutions. A lot of this is not rocket science. Are those solutions implemented? No, they are not. The public wonders why. The ultimate legislative agenda has everything to do with where people are in the polls, specifically the government, and less to do with public policy. That is why important issues affecting Canadians are not dealt with.

When MPs are elected, they come to the House with great desire to do things for their constituents and indeed for their country. Yet they find once in the House that they are told to shut up, to do what they are told or else. That goes from top to bottom. Those who try to innovate are labelled as renegades or rebels and relegated to some place out in left field. Certainly they will not be used by leadership.

What we need is a transformation of leadership one which will use people with different viewpoints and use the House as a place where there is vigorous and aggressive debate and challenges each of us to bring forth the best solutions to address the problems of our nation. Ultimately the best solutions will percolate to the top so that they can be applied for the people of our country. It is sad to say that does not occur.

I hope in our lifetimes, whether inside the House or outside, that we will come to the day when MPs will have true free votes in the House. I hope we will have electronic voting in the House which will be an asset in voting freely across party lines. I hope committees will be at arm's length from the political masters and will have the ability to deal with legislation first so the public can have creative input into that legislation before it goes to the House, rather than being an institution where legislation is rubber stamped.

We also need a to take away the ability of the Prime Minister to make appointments. The public would be interested to know that the Prime Minister appoints cabinet, the deputy ministers, the assistants to the ministers, which is very important, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the heads of Crown corporations. We have one individual who has a whole swath of people controlling the major central organizations which are beholding to that person. That is not a democracy.

The Bloc is saying is this, and I think members across party lines would agree. Members on the other side know full well, too, if they look into their hearts, that they need this as much as we do. They need to democratize the House as much as we do, because they cannot do their jobs for their constituents and neither can we.

Would it not be healthier if we listened to the motion of the Bloc Quebecois and adopted it right away? It is very important that this happens. I would challenge members on the other side to work with us across party lines to institute the changes on how appointments are made and how committees are structured and that there are reforms to private members' business and other things. If we do that, then Canada will be a democracy and not the autocracy that we have today. We will get rid of this elected dictatorship that is a blight and a pox on all our houses.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Madam Speaker, the current system of order in council appointments can be improved. Anything can be improved around here, but after listening to the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I do not want to go backwards. I do not want to make things worse.

Let us look at the amendment to the motion. What does the amendment call for? It calls for order in council appointees, before the process is finalized, to be brought before House of Commons committees to be raked over the coals. That is exactly what would happen. They would be raked over the coals by the opposition, which would be looking for any possible thing with which to denigrate the appointees. Someone might have been in a car accident 30 years ago. Heaven knows, somebody might have had a baby out of wedlock. Somebody might have smoked a joint sometime in the past and the opposition would turn it into a scandal.

Look at what has happened in Congress. About 10 years ago, we had the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas fiasco in the Senate. As well, former president Clinton tried to appoint a particular woman for attorney-general. It turned out she did not pay for some unemployment insurance premiums for a babysitter and down she went. She had to be disapproved. Then of course the Democrats got into a tit-for-tat situation. It was payback time. When Bush tried to appoint a particular woman for labour secretary she had to be blown away by the Democrats. Again I think it was because she did not pay some unemployment insurance premiums.

That is the kind of situation we would have if we had order in council appointees brought before committees. In other words, the system would be politicized, and the last thing we need around here is even more politics. We have to give the administration some facility, some room, to do the job properly.

I defy anyone to suggest that our deputy ministers are any worse than their counterparts in the United States, that our judges are any worse than their counterparts in the United States, and in fact, as far as I am concerned, than in any country around the world. The last thing we need is this kind of politicization.

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6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, if the Prime Minister having the power to appoint every single deputy minister and minister is not politicization, then what is?

What we are trying to do is enable the people of this country, through their elected officials, to have some vetting procedure. Rather than having one person in the Prime Minister's Office appoint all these people in all of these important positions across the land, we are just saying to please put some faith into the House, for crying out loud. We suggest that all of us should have some input into these extremely important positions so that the cream will rise to the top and we will have an apolitical process whereby individuals will be chosen on the basis of merit.

We have fine deputy ministers in the country and very fine Supreme Court judges. I am sure that those people would also be selected by a two-thirds majority of the House. That is a lot fairer than having one person select those people without any accountability and without any transparency.

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6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, after that last question I just have to make a comment on the extraordinary frustration from the hon. member that we should have openness in our system of appointments. He suggested that inappropriate questions might be asked in the course of questioning a person as to whether or not he or she is suitable for some government appointment.

If a question that is asked is inappropriate and is beyond the pale of what the public will accept, then the person who asked the question, who raised the point from the past of the potential appointee, will suffer the consequences in public opinion. I think there is a natural mechanism to protect us from going too far and that mechanism is the wisdom of the Canadian people who will not tolerate too much inappropriate probing into the pasts of individuals.

I do think that if one takes a look at the process by which potential appointments are reviewed in the United States and elsewhere, one would find that on the whole the questions are very practical and policy oriented. They do not get as much coverage as the examples the hon. member has mentioned, but I think we do find that on the whole openness in appointments leads to a superior quality of appointments.

It is not a spectacular process and that is why the member is not aware of these many examples. Nonetheless, I think it does produce a better quality of appointed official.

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6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree with my hon. friend. The fact of the matter is that he is absolutely right. Any of us who are behaving in a manner that is going to be harmful to the process will be raked over the coals back in our own ridings. We should be putting more faith in the Canadian public that they have the wisdom to keep an eye on us to make sure we are doing our job. If we are trying to make cheap political points at the expense of the public good they will turf us out of office.