Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois motion before the House today reads as follows:
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.
First of all, I wish to say that this motion is redundant. I say this because this topic is already covered in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Parliamentary committees already have the power, after any appointment, to ask the appointee to appear before them.
Not only is this proposal redundant, but it does not include persons appointed by order in council. If we look at the current provisions of the Standing Orders, the government tables the following appointments: deputy ministers, for example, which are not part of the Bloc motion, ambassadors, consuls general, all heads of Crown corporations, heads of regulatory bodies such as the CRTC, the NEB, the Canadian Transportation Agency. There are also certain appointments to quasi-judiciary bodies, in particular the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
As we see, not only is the motion incomplete and redundant, but we do more under the current Standing Orders than what is requested in the motion.
The government supports the Bloc's motion, even if it is incomplete. Our Standing Orders already deal with appointments, and the motion refers only to the appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations.
We support the motion, but we do have a problem with the amendment put forward by a member of the Bloc. Why?
First, the Bloc amended the motion to request that all government appointments be tabled in the House of Commons before they become final. There are several problems with that.
The Bloc amendment would prevent appointments being made when the House has adjourned for a long period or prorogued. For instance, in the summertime, what do we do after June goes by if there are ambassador or consul general positions that need to be filled? What should the government do? Should it wait for the House to resume before appointing a Canadian representative to some country? It does not make any sense. Lastly, it is not a good amendment.
We will have a problem if the government has to take specific measures to appoint a deputy minister or a judge--although judges are not included in the motion.
While the thrust of the proposition by itself is not complete, the government supports the motion, simply put, because the motion is covered under Standing Orders as it is. As I clearly stated a little earlier, the amendment is problematic because it really cuffs the hands of the government when it comes to appointments.
Also there is another element here, that is, we want to have efficiency in government. We want the government to be able to run its operation in the most efficient fashion. So let us imagine, out of 4,300 appointments, if we were to wait for a committee or committees of the House to examine each and every one of them before those appointments could take place. Imagine the many distinguished Canadians who might decide not to allow their names to be put forward if they were to be subjected to questioning or scrutiny by a committee of Parliament that is highly political to a large extent. Many of those people would prefer not to submit their names if they could not be sure that their names would be accepted by the government. Who would want to put up with all of this nonsense that takes place from time to time before committees?
There is a case in point. I do not want to belabour the issue, but I want to provide one example of a situation where a committee of the House was supposed to look into an issue and passed a unanimous motion, by resolution, to hold all of its hearings in camera to interview an individual. After this committee met in camera, after passing the resolution unanimously, the individual appeared before the committee and gave his presentation, trusting that the committee would respect its own resolution, trusting the fact that all the hearings and questioning would remain in camera for a period of time.
Guess what happened afterward? Members of the opposition on that committee were exceptionally quick to leave the committee meeting, go right into the glare of the cameras outside the committee meeting and blurt out most of the stuff that had taken place inside the committee. Not only did they undermine the credibility of the committee itself, but at the same time they put this witness in jeopardy and broke what I would call, in a sense, one of the most fundamental rules of the House, which is respect for the rules themselves.
If we take what happened in that particular committee, transform it and pass it on to other committees we will have a recipe for disaster, whereby every single person who may have some sort of trust in the system will lose confidence in the system and it will not work. There is nothing wrong with what we have before us because as it is right now the committees have a right within their mandate to call for any one of those 4,300 appointments that the government makes from time to time.
I might suggest that by and large the absolute vast majority of those appointments are done with the best interests of the public at heart. These are highly qualified people who serve their nation exceptionally well, many of whom do it on a voluntary basis, many of whom donate endless numbers of hours to serve this great country of ours.
The committees have that within their mandate. They have up to 30 days to call any witness they want.
Some of the committees in the House, in particular the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have exercised this authority. I remember that one of my colleagues from the Bloc in fact called on one of the appointees to appear before the committee. A number of questions were asked of that particular appointee. The system worked. But to tell me that we want to subject every single one of those appointments not only to scrutiny but to scrutiny before an appointment takes place, I submit that it will not serve democracy well. It will not serve this country well. This country's system works. In fact it was ranked among the best in the world by Transparency International, which is a not for profit organization that looks at countries and nations and decides whether or not the system is transparent.
The system is transparent and it works. If we really want to be fair to ourselves, we have to simplify the system and not make it more cumbersome. We want to have a proper debate in terms of how we can make the system work, not how we can make the system not work.
Not long ago members voted for over five days continuously, 24 hours a day. Approximately 3,000 motions were put before the House. We voted hour in and hour out. My colleagues on both sides of the House were tired at the end. Why did we have to do that if we really have the interests of Parliament and the public at heart? What did we achieve? Nothing. All we did was frustrate democracy.
If we were to move with this proposed system, in particular the amendment, we would be frustrating democracy. We would be putting partisan politics ahead of the public interest. We should not do that.
We have a system that works. We have a government that gets elected by the people. Ultimately the cabinet and the House of Commons are responsible to the people. The Prime Minister is responsible to the people. Every four or five years, sometimes three and a half years, the people of Canada pass their judgment on the government of the day and whether or not it is doing its job.
The system works, but we need proper parliamentary reform. The government House leader, in consultation with the opposition House leaders, is working on proper reform. People are crying out for reasonable, tangible, real reform. We do not want a reform that when we talk about the issues we seem to come forward with some sort of a resolution, and suddenly because some people do not get their way, they block the whole process. That is what has taken place in the past, in particular when we talk about private members' bills.
Many of my colleagues, including some on this side of the House, have been frustrated by this issue for quite some time. I have been frustrated with this. I have firsthand experience which to a large extent has lessened my trust in the parliamentary reform that has taken place up to this point in time because it is tainted with partisanship and it should not be.
The government House leader has continuously said, “Let us put partisan politics aside. Let us talk about real reform”. I put forward a private member's bill dealing with an issue which is very important not only to me but to millions of Canadians, dealing with the definition of a child and whether or not a law of this land should call a child illegitimate. I thought it was a very legitimate proposition. It went through the process. My proposition got to a subcommittee and the report came back to Parliament that no, the House should not deal with the issue and it should not vote on it.
I was frustrated as a member of Parliament and many of my colleagues and constituents were frustrated. My faith in the system was reduced. However, when I saw the House leaders moving forward with propositions for real reform, I got re-energized. I have a lot more confidence now than I did a few months ago.
I believe that we now have a proper platform in order to bring about real reform. We have to put aside the partisan politics when we talk about real parliamentary reform. We have to move forward with real parliamentary reform. As it is, for our part we will be voting for the main motion, but not for the amendment to the motion because it renders the system inefficient. It does not help the system by itself, in a sense, because it makes the government not function properly.
As I said earlier, what would we do if an ambassador's term ended and the ambassador did not want to extend it? Would we wait until the House was back in session? Would we call the committee back into session? What would we do in that type of situation? Why is it not fair or right for the government to make those appointments and then allow the committees, as is the law now, to examine those appointments? What is wrong with that? I do not see anything wrong with that aspect of it.
We must not miss the point. Parliamentary reform has to be parliamentary reform and an amendment to the standing orders has to be a real amendment. As I said, while we will vote for the motion as it is, certainly the amendment by itself does not meet the objective. In introducing that amendment to the House, I hope my colleague did not mean what it has meant.
A lot has taken place. I recall when we were in opposition back in 1988. Things were a lot more difficult. We have come a long way. Since the government came to power, it has allowed more votes on private members' bills than any other government in the history of the country. More private members' bills have been adopted by the House than ever before. Our colleagues are entitled to stand up and vote freely on private members' bills.
I would suggest the same is not happening on the other side. When the official opposition party was first elected, its members continually said that its members of Parliament were here to vote according to what their constituents asked of them.
As time passed, we observed how often members of the official opposition voted independently. As the days and months moved along, those times started to shrink and shrink and eventually they moved to a block vote. Why? Because they know full well that the system as it is works, although it needs a lot of reform. We live in a democracy which is based on the British system. The official opposition has a role, as does the government.
We cannot be at the mercy of special interests where a group of individuals in a constituency gang up and send a petition with 2,000 to 3,000 names on it because they want to take a stand that fits their specific needs. The member of Parliament finds himself at the mercy of 1,500 to 2,000 constituents who want one thing when probably the vast majority of people in the rest of the constituencies do not want it. The member in this situation votes accordingly because the member believes that is what his constituents want.
In the parliamentary system we have, we follow the party line. We vote according to the party line. It works. It has proven over and over again to be a superior system to the American system where each senator has his own right to stand up and vote. A result of that is that senators and members of congress are at the mercy of special interests.
Take the softwood lumber issue for example, just to point out the difference between the two systems. We cannot Americanize our system. We have to improve and fine tune what we have because it is good.
In the United States, members of congress or members of the senate who come from areas where there are a lot of producers of wood are more likely to be on the side of those who produce the wood rather than those who consume the wood who might be in urban settings but might be in rural settings for that matter. Simply put, those members are bound to follow special interests a lot more than we do here.
I am exceptionally honoured to be a member of the House of Commons and a member of a government that has a wonderful record on all fronts, the economic front, the social front, and the reform front. It has done more for the country than any other government has done in the past. I am honoured to be serving with a Prime Minister who is the finest the country has ever seen. He has brought dignity back to Parliament. He has brought justice to the people of Canada. He has reformed government. He has made government more transparent. He has responded to the needs of Canadians over and over again.
That is the kind of government the country deserves. That is the kind of government Canadians will elect over and over again. We will continue to provide responsible government and a fiscally balanced approach to governing. We are a conscientious government that is always looking out for the best interests of Canadians, not the interests of those who can take care of themselves, but we defend the interests of those who cannot take care of themselves. That is the kind of government the Prime Minister has provided us with.
While the main motion of the Bloc is not perfect, we can live with it. With regard to the amendment however, it is my hope that the hon. member who proposed it will withdraw the amendment so we can move on with the business of the House.