Mr. Speaker, today we are debating the so-called modernization of Parliament. What we really should be talking about is the re-democratization of Parliament. This place has become undemocratic in so many respects that I could talk all day about examples that I personally have experienced in the last nine years in which I have been a member of this place.
I wish to cite some examples that happened today. We had two points of order brought to the chair. One was from a committee where a committee member had something to say on an important issue before the committee and was summarily cut off by the chair. It was like “you are not going to get to talk about this, sorry, you lose”.
Since when are members barred from engaging in the kind of discussion which is the point of committee work? Yet that happened. Members complained and the response was that if they did not like it they should have asked for the ruling of the chair to be challenged. Then what would happen? The Liberal majority on the committee would simply uphold the chair. Opposition members are sitting ducks.
I have sat in committee where the gavel comes down, the meeting is adjourned before it is time because the minister is there and getting in hot water. I have sat in committee where the most basic rules of fairness and democracy are torn to shreds and the response is that the committee can do whatever it wants.
We all know, from personal experience in the House, that the rules of democracy and fairness are not followed in committee a lot of the time, particularly when the government is getting into trouble and decides it is going to railroad the process to get its own way. That is not democracy.
What we have in our country, and let us be honest about this because there is no point in not being honest and we are not going to get anywhere if we are not honest, is an elected dictatorship. We have a Prime Minister, it does not matter who that person is, who practically runs the country single handedly. We have a Prime Minister who appoints all the members of cabinet and parliamentary secretaries. Increasingly the Prime Minister decides who gets to run in a particular riding to be the candidate for the party.
The Prime Minister appoints all of the justices of the Supreme Court, the Federal Court, and any other federal court appointments. The Prime Minister decides who gets to be the head of a crown corporation. The Prime Minister decides who gets to sit in the Senate. The Prime Minister runs the country with such immense power that it is becoming increasingly undemocratic.
That is the problem. That is the real nub of this whole thing. Many members on both sides of the House from all parties want to see this place re-democratized. It will not happen because there is a lack of will in this chamber to make it happen.
In opposition there is much beating of breasts about re-democratizing the system. Before the Liberals were elected in 1993, when they were in opposition, they put forward in the red book a good plan for re-democratizing this place. As a candidate at that time I agreed and supported that plan. The plan disappeared as soon as the Liberal Party was elected. Since that time more power has been arrogated to the Prime Minister's hands. Any re-democratization has been a figment of imagination.
In order to re-democratize this place two things would make that happen. First, we must have a Prime Minister who would be willing to give up power. To ask someone to give up power is a pretty chancy proposition. If we want to have a real change in this place we must have the cooperation from a prime minister who holds so much power in his or her hands.
Second, we must have government members who are willing to support in real substantial ways the re-democratization of this place. That is just not happening. Why is that not happening? We go full circle because government members want to benefit from the power that is held in the hands of the Prime Minister.
Government members want the appointments to cabinet. They want the appointments as parliamentary secretaries and chairs of committees. They want to ensure that their nomination papers get signed so that they can continue to be members of this place. They do not want to be on the outs with the Prime Minister who has their future, their political opportunities, in his hands. So they simply kowtow and bow to whatever they have to do to ingratiate themselves with that all powerful Prime Minister.
We see the incredible spectacle of members of Parliament on the government side bringing arguments forward in committee and in the House that no intelligent, rational person could ever credit as being proper arguments. They twist and mangle facts. There is a devious interpretation of things. We see it day after day.
I could bring up examples that happened today in debate but I do not want to embarrass anyone. It is not my intention to do that. We must face facts here and the fact is we have members who twist themselves in knots to follow the agenda that is put forward by their political masters in the PMO. That is exactly what is happening.
We have good suggestions for parliamentary democratization, not just from the opposition. We put forward our “Building Trust” document, which people can find on our website. Those are good issues. The PC Party brought forward a good parliamentary redemocratization document. I agree with most of what is in there. The Liberals have brought forward those proposals but they never go anywhere. Why do they not go anywhere? There is no collective will on the side of the House that has more votes than the opposition side to make it happen.
We can blow all the hot air we want to. We can talk until the cows come home about all the things we would like to see happen, but until members on the government side of the House are willing to stand up and stand firm, and be counted when it comes to redemocratization of this place, the rights and privileges of all members and the democratic conventions of the House will continue to be eroded. It does not matter what we say or want. It does not even matter what government members say they want because they are not willing to vote for those things.
In only one instance did that happen this month and that was because there was a political personality clash on the other side. It was not about principle so much as about factionalism on the Liberal side. Thank goodness there was some movement, which government members supported to the extent that we got it through, to allow us to elect committee chairs by secret ballot. It was a big breakthrough. That was the only one in nine years I have seen. That was because there was factionalism on the Liberal side, not because of a matter of principle.
If it were a matter of principle there would have been more reforms coming through. If it were a matter of principle Liberals on committees would never allow the kind of abuse of the democratic process or the rights of members that happens almost every week in this place, if not every week. That is the problem we have.
We are talking about parliamentary modernization, which is a total misnomer. It should be about restoring a reasonable level of democracy. I am not suggesting that the opposition should be able to run everything. I hope to be in government myself and I would not want the opposition to be able to filibuster, obstruct and completely hold up the business of government. That would be ridiculous. No one would support that. I do not support that in opposition. I am talking about a reasonable level of democracy where democratic rights of process and procedure are not steamrollered every day of the week in this place without a peep being raised by the majority, which has the power to change it.
The government has nothing on its agenda so it will throw out something for us to talk about to fill in the time. A little while ago it was health and everyone talked about health. The government said that it would let us talk about that awhile. Then it said that we would talk about parliamentary “modernization” because it was a hot issue.
It will not change unless the Prime Minister decides it will change or unless enough members in the House decide they will put the principle of democratization ahead of their own personal partisan political future and advantage. That is the truth of the matter. We need to get serious about it if we are ever to address this problem in a meaningful way.