Mr. Speaker, I am pleased in some ways to take part in this debate and share the time with my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest.
Clearly what has been discussed I think many Canadians would deem to be somewhat of a insider baseball type of debate as to how committees are structured and how chairmanships are arrived at. Yet what is most significant about the debate still comes back to fundamental principles of democracy, issues that I think are very basic to many Canadians, and perhaps the larger issue of how Parliament is functioning or not functioning in a way that serves its constituents, which are clearly the people of Canada, the people who elect each and every member of Parliament in this place.
Mr. Speaker, you chaired a very important committee, a modernization committee that bears your name, the Kilger report. Within that report is some of the same pith and substance that has been the formation of this debate, that has been bandied about here today. Coupled with that and the rhetoric that often accompanies these types of debates, the partisanship and the toing and froing, I believe that at the very least we have exposed and shed light on some of these important issues that need to be discussed. Clearly the commentary by my colleagues and others does bear some repetition. There is almost a Nixonian feel to what has been taking place in recent years.
One of the oldest maxims in justice talks about delay being the deadliest form of denial. What is happening here is very much about delay. What we have seen is the hon. member for Mississauga Centre who had the courage to stand up and vote against her government, which is a rarity in the past nine and a half years, and much of what she said was true. We can lose sight of the bigger issue here. The bigger issue here is that all members, I would suggest, want to see a better functioning Parliament. All members want to participate in an institution that they can be proud of, an institution that they feel is representative of the very ideals of democracy and those principles that we hold so dear. Yet what has been happening in recent days and in the last 24 hours is that we have seen once again the iron hand of the Prime Minister and his office intervening in the direction in which this issue was headed, and that was to make Parliament function better by virtue of having committees elect their chairs, by greater participation in that process, I would suggest.
I hasten to add, and I am glad my colleague from Fredericton is present, that were this process to go through as recommended by the report and as recommended by the motion before the House, many of the same chairs would remain in place. Many of the chairs who are currently serving those posts are doing so competently and admirably. They are doing good work and that work would be recognized by the existing or new membership of these committees.
I say that about the member opposite who chairs the justice committee. I suggest, and I have told him, I would support him in that post. I want to back up that point by saying that what is going to happen if we adopt this motion, if we adopt this report, is that Liberals, the governing party, will still hold the chairmanship of each and every committee in the House. It is not as if they are forfeiting power to the opposition. What they are forfeiting, I would suggest, is some control over that process. That process is still subject to manipulation. It is still subject to attempts, at least, to have those hand-picked individuals in place. Remuneration is there, and I am not disagreeing with that, but it is still seen as a reward. It is still much of the carrot and stick approach that is brought to play by the Prime Minister. That is simply something that has to change.
We have to be prepared to put some faith in the common sense, the inner fortitude and the strength of members of Parliament to exercise discretion. I suggest that the cracks in the foundation of this place would not open and the Parliament buildings themselves, these great buildings, would not fall if we were to have elected chairs.
Some of the alarmist talk coming from the government side suggests that democracy would be at risk, that the opposition would somehow form an insurrection and the seas would boil and the skies would fall. That is simply not the case. What we would have is greater credibility. What we would have is a better functioning committee.
We would have demonstrated at the committee level that members of Parliament can get along. As the Speaker himself is elected, there would be an attempt by government to actually work in an open-handed way with members of Parliament to do good things at the committee level, to pass legislation that is perhaps better functioning and better in its application.
This debate is very apropos to what is taking place. I feel there is a sea of change afoot. We see it in the province of Quebec and in provinces around the country where we could have as many as six or seven provincial elections in the next 10 to 14 months. We will see the leadership change in federal parties.
I met with students today representing CASA. In meeting with these young people they are looking for a sign of faith. They are looking for credibility and substance. They are looking for a sign that Parliament itself can modernize itself, and that members of Parliament can show an open mind. We know this is a partisan atmosphere, but at times we can strive for the greater good. I believe we are capable of that. I believe that if and when we do that we will see a greater interest and relevance of this place.
We will also see perhaps, and I say this with the greatest respect to members present and present company included, a greater participation in elections, participation in nominations to put names forward, and a direct involvement in a process that is fundamental to the functioning of this country. We have had an opportunity in each party to examine these issues in depth and to reflect upon our own policies.
We had a report on democratic reform that was adopted at our convention in Edmonton this summer. It spoke to this issue specifically and to many other issues. It spoke of the need, for example, to have greater free votes, fewer confidence votes, and to have this code of ethics that has been wanting adopted by the House of Commons so that it would apply to the ethics of members of Parliament and how they conduct themselves, not only here, but around the country.
We talked about the power of the purse and the ability to have greater examination of how public money would be spent and how we should have fulsome examinations of that at the committee level. Much of what we do, the inner workings, the engine of how legislation is crafted and how legislation is adopted, is done by those committees so it comes back time and time again.
It would be advisable not to have parliamentary secretaries on those committees because they are the ever-present guiding hand of the Prime Minister. It is about this control and endless need of this particular Prime Minister to never relinquish the control that he has.
A noted political author, Donald Savoie of New Brunswick, spoke of the concentration of power. This individual, who has studied this subject matter extensively, echoes the sentiments of many. The former Prime Minister, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, said in the House today that democracy loses its strength gradually, by increments, and it takes vigilance and a concerted political will to stem the erosion of democracy by those who would seek to concentrate power in the hands of a few. He added that never before in the history of Canada has power been so concentrated in the hands of a few, a small handful of unelected political flacks in the Prime Minister's Office.
It is a sad commentary coming from a man who has served in the highest office in the land. He is echoing the sentiment of many members who have spoken today, many political commentators, editorialists, and persons at the Tim Hortons drive-through.
Canadians know things must change. They are looking to us to do it. They are looking to the government which has the power to do it. Members like the member for LaSalle—Émard have expressed the will but it is clear that when push comes to shove, it is like the new remix of the Elvis song “A little less conversation, a little more action please” is what has to happen. It must be demonstrated, played out here and around the country.
We have an opportunity to do that. There will be an opportunity for members to show that willingness next week when this matter comes to a vote. Much of the antagonism and much of the apathy will disappear when we see that happen. I look forward to seeing that next week.