Mr. Speaker, I want to start by congratulating my friend, the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier. His motion is very important, very substantive and very practical. I know that he works hard on this issue. This is not new to him.
Last week, with respect to much of the subject matter that we see before us, there was a great deal of media attention paid to a speech given by the member for LaSalle—Émard. His speech was titled “Proposal for Reform of the House of Commons”. Unlike that of my colleague from the Bloc, this is a bit of a revelation coming from that particular member.
This speech was made by the former finance minister, co-author of the red book. This man was a member of cabinet for nine years and he now describes himself as the architect of the democratic deficit.
This was a speech in which the member for LaSalle—Émard said:
We have allowed power to become too centralized. Too concentrated in the hands of a few and too remote from the influence of the many.
We have permitted a culture to arise that has been some thirty years in the making. One that can be best summarized by the one question that everyone in Ottawa believes has become the key to getting things done: “Who do you know in the PMO?”
As the Prime Minister himself was quick to point out, the former finance minister knew him and served him in the cabinet. He was part and parcel of any of the decisions the government has made and in fact led and clearly was the architect behind many of the decisions to reduce transfer payments to the provinces by billions, which obviously devastated health care and education as a direct result. During his time in cabinet, he hypocritically reaped the benefits of the GST to claim victory over the deficit. He absconded with $30 billion from the EI fund to put against the debt, and that is confirming that it was all collected under false pretences.
That speech given by the member for LaSalle—Émard would have been greater in its credibility had the member chosen to deliver it in the House of Commons, for example, which he could have done during his part in the throne speech. Instead, he followed the old pattern of ignoring the House of Commons. He delivered it when he knew there would be no rigorous questioning before he could escape back into the cocoon of his campaign spinners.
I want to spend a few minutes looking at the “who do you know?” speech and then discuss some of the proposals of my own party. I will also relate both of these to the motion brought forward by my friend from the Bloc.
Very little of what the member for LaSalle—Émard proposed had anything to do with Parliament or the House of Commons. He spoke first of party discipline and free votes. That is a matter for each party, I would suggest. What was really being said is that as Prime Minister the member for LaSalle—Émard would tell his caucus how far he was prepared to tolerate dissent. The real day of freedom will come when members of Parliament, members of the Liberal caucus, themselves decide the degree to which they are prepared to support the government on issues. This will be the test: what caucus tells the cabinet, not what the Prime Minister tells the caucus to do.
Then he advocated referral of bills to committees before second reading. It is hardly a revolutionary concept. It was enacted in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons in 1994 while the member was in cabinet. Why is he only discovering this procedure now?
His third area of reform is to call for a rewrite of rules governing private members' business. We all know that there needs to be change there. His proposal is to permit the government to throttle bills in a large number of committees instead of throttling them in one committee.
The fourth item of the great reformer from LaSalle—Émard deals with the committees and touches on the motion before the House. I will return to this in a moment, as I will to the fifth item concerning government appointments, but the last of the six items is the best of all, for the member for LaSalle—Émard has discovered the merits of an independent ethics counsellor who would report directly to Parliament. Yet he stood in the House of Commons twice voting against his own words that were plucked verbatim from the red book that he co-authored. The member went on to Toronto to announce his recantation. Nobody there would point out this double standard. Had he done so in the House of Commons, I suggest he would have received a little more scrutiny.The first year law students of constitutional law where he made his announcement were simply too polite.
Let us go back to the fourth and fifth items: first, committee chairs being elected by secret ballot. That would be revolutionary and is an item that I think all members of the House of Commons would embrace, but let me remind the House of Commons that the secret ballot election of the Speaker of the House of Commons was in fact brought into effect by the Mulroney government, the same government that gave wide ranging mandates to the standing committees of the House.
What of committees in the world of the member for LaSalle—Émard? The membership would be determined by caucus and the chairs by secret ballot. The underlying assumption is that the government caucus would still hold all of these offices.
Nowhere does the member for LaSalle—Émard see that the role of members of Parliament who do not sit in the Liberal caucus would really be nil. Perhaps he is not aware that at Westminster, where he discovered the three-line whip, committee chairs are shared across the floor. One does not have to be a government supporter to chair a committee.
A final word on committees does deserve to be read into Hansard. This is again a direct quote from the member for LaSalle—Émard. He speaks of this issue:
There is a final issue I would raise on the subject. All Ministers should be compelled to appear more routinely before committee. This, to the government's credit, is a move that has been undertaken in recent years. For instance, the House Leader's Office has urged ministers to appear annually before their relevant standing committees on the subject of their departments' estimates.
This story is behind us. Is this what the member for LaSalle—Émard really expects people to believe, given that in his years in cabinet he failed to appear before his committee to defend his estimates? How can he now stand and simply tell Canadians “Wash me, but don't make me wet, completely forget what I have done, listen to my words, don't look at my actions for almost a decade”. Now he has discovered the word accountability, whereby he should go before committees and answer for his actions.
It was in fact the Progressive Conservative caucus that created the fuss that led to the intervention of the government House leader and the Prime Minister. Even after all that, if we check the record we will find that for his final year in office as the great steward of the consolidated revenue fund of Canada, the former minister of finance again failed to appear at committee to defend his estimates, but he wants us to believe that he really does think it would be a good idea if we all sat down and had a nice chat about a year from now, once a year, perhaps.
Now for the last point, which speaks of reforming the process surrounding government appointments and which in fact is the very basis of the motion before the House. At the moment, as a result of the initiatives of the previous Conservative government, the committees of the House have the right on their own motion to examine any order in council appointment. We do not do it often and have not, particularly in the last 10 years, and some may say the results are unsatisfactory. Some will say that the failure of the system is best summed up in two words: Alfonso Gagliano.
It was in fact some of the supporters of the member for LaSalle—Émard who were members of that committee who moved to block a motion that would have allowed the committee to examine the appointment process that led to the departure of the former government member, Alfonso Gagliano, for Denmark. I ask again rhetorically: What did Denmark do to deserve that? We saw how the Liberals stonewalled any credible examination of that appointment. We saw how they blocked questions, how they were determined at all costs to support what was a rotten appointment and a disgrace to the Canadian diplomatic corps.
The proposals from the member for LaSalle—Émard would not have changed this result. Let us be clear: There is in reality no increase in scrutiny being proposed. What is being put forward would simply put a stamp of parliamentary scrutiny on bad appointments as well as the good ones.
Those are the vapid proposals from the front-runner of the Liberal leadership race, not to mention that in examining them in greater detail we find no mention of greater financial scrutiny, no mention of the rights of the opposition and no mention of the need to bring the cabinet back into Parliament for greater accountability on the floor of the House of Commons. These are alternate versions that in fact really amount to very little.
This summer the Progressive Conservative Party adopted a significant policy of democratic reform when it met in Edmonton. This policy is one of the fruits of the collaboration between the PC caucus and the member for Edmonton North and other members of that coalition. We favour a lessening of party discipline and less use of the corrosive and over-the-top overuse of threats of loss of confidence. In fact, I believe one of the most beneficial efforts that came from this democratic working task force was the recognition that for the greater good much of the old concepts of party discipline could be put to one side, and that individuality, with members of Parliament coming forward on behalf of their constituents and taking strong positions on issues of morality, of a regional interest or of a personal interest for those members, should not be dissuaded.
We favour the tenure for committee membership. The whip would not be able to remove a member of Parliament who was making life unpleasant for the government. What a novel concept; having independent action by members of the House of Commons who are democratically elected by their constituents, events that we favour with respect to the election of committee chairs, secret balloting and vice-chairs. These would be distributed throughout the parties in relation to party standings. Therefore we would do away with some of the partiality and politics that enter inevitably into this process in which we live and breathe.
We favour keeping parliamentary secretaries, whips and other party office-holders off committees, again enhancing their independence. We would insist that ministers attend committees while their legislation is under consideration. That would rock the member for LaSalle—Émard who never carried a single bill through all stages while acting as finance minister.
In the report by the Progressive Conservative Party, we champion the appointment of an independent ethics counsellor who would report directly to Parliament through a committee that would allow for examination of any indiscretion by ministers or members of the House of Commons.
We would insist that ministers outline government positions in the House of Commons before any federal-provincial meetings take place and report the outcome of those meetings to the House. What a novel concept again were that to have happened with respect to Kyoto, rather than this cloak and dagger exercise where it appears the government's position was decided upon in the taxi on the way to the conference, and has been in complete turmoil ever since.
We would like to create federal-provincial interparliamentary relationships with policy fields, such as transportation, agriculture and justice, to name but a few, that would allow for direct input and interaction between our provincial colleagues and provincial governments, which would enhance greatly the relationship that should exist between all levels of government and yet has been extremely exacerbated by the past 10 years of the Liberal government.
We want to improve upon the scrutiny of public spending, by examining in detail the estimates of four departments selected by the opposition, not the government, for 160 hours in committee of the whole of the House of Commons. Contrast that with the silence of the member for LaSalle—Émard.
We would require independent legal advisers for the Parliament of Canada on the charter and the compatibility of the charter with legislation.
We would establish a judicial review committee of Parliament to prepare an appropriate response to those court decisions that Parliament believed should be addressed through legislation. What an opportunity that would be in the face of decisions, such as the Sharpe case, which could directly result in the intervention of Parliament and a response through legislation, rather than the convoluted process where we are left waiting for the Minister of Justice to respond.
We would have the name and the qualifications of any person proposed for the appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada to be presented to Parliament which would, after debate, make a recommendation on the suitability of that nominees candidacy. This vote would be conducted and communicated to the governor in council prior to any appointment being made. Again, it is something very simple, yet very significant for all Canadians to realize that their elected officials, the persons whom they have entrusted to go to Ottawa, would actually have a say in appointing the judges who make very important decisions, and in the final analysis make law in many cases by virtue of those decisions.
We would have direct elections for senators and would assign 24 seats to the province of British Columbia and look at how we would rebalance and bring back into the debate the issue of how we could make the Senate of Canada, the other place, more relevant to this process and to Canadians generally.
The Progressive Conservative Party would rebalance the constitutional powers of the Senate to reflect the objective of provincial, territorial and regional representation in the federal legislative process while ensuring the supremacy of the House of Commons. That is not a new concept. That has been proposed before by our party and by other parties.
The Conservative Party would also require the government to table draft regulations before the passage of any bill seeking regulation-making authority and we would put into the law the powers of Parliament to disallow regulations.
We would also strengthen the rights of Canadians to petition Parliament. Again, that form of direct interaction and contact, is something that we should be quick to embrace.
We would in some circumstances involve citizens directly in the legislative process through hybrid committees of MPs and citizens. A classic example of that are the recent changes to the Indian Act where members of first nations would like to participate directly, sit on committees, have the opportunity to question witnesses and give those very necessary perspectives on such an important issue that affects them.
The Progressive Conservative Party would conduct an examination of the electoral system. We would reform the financial disclosure requirements of the electoral system to make leadership funding transparent.
Another issue which I think is important overall is the way in which elections are currently paid for. Perhaps we should embark on publicly funded elections, given that almost 70% of the funding, because of tax write-offs, is currently picked up by the public. It would also allow for an equal starting point. If the publicly funded elections were in place, all parties would begin on the same footing. There would be complete transparency. There would be an ability to see exactly from where the money came because it would be clearly set out in a single amount that applied to all parties.
Let me return now to the motion itself that has been proposed by the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier. He is asking that the committee of the House of Commons exercise greater scrutiny over order in council appointments. We support that wholeheartedly, but in doing so we are under no illusions that there will be any change under the Liberal administration. As I mentioned before, that pattern was clearly established by the appointment of Alfonso Gagliano. Stay tuned, there will be others.
The member for LaSalle—Émard has failed to disown that travesty. He has made great efforts to portray himself now as the leader of the sixth party, and to say that somehow he was not present at the cabinet table when all these decisions were made. He has somehow mysteriously gone off into the netherland, suggesting that he was not there, that he was not part of the government's decision making for the last 10 years.
What is clearly required is a bigger vision for what Parliament can and should be. I have outlined some of the changes that my party, the Progressive Conservative Party, offers Canadians. It demonstrates a commitment to a strong renewal of our democratic system through a stronger Parliament. I contrast that with the myopic vision of the member for LaSalle—Émard who in the end is engaging in a make work project for his Liberal caucus. There is every reason to believe, should he gain the leadership of his party, that people will still ask, “Who do you know in the PMO?”