Mr. Speaker, one of the first things we should change around here is we should stop wasting an entire parliamentary session talking about change. It is interesting because we have a system where we could actually do this in committee. The problem is it is not on television and it is not what the opposition wants.
I want to congratulate the opposition for actually having taken over the agenda and forcing us to go through an entire parliamentary debate. The point was made, although somewhat disingenuous, by a member opposite that we could be debating Kyoto, Iraq, health care, housing, seniors or immigration. These are things that matter to people outside of the beltway.
We live in the beltway, so what do we do all day long? We say that we are frustrated. We cannot get anything done. We are lonely backbenchers and so we want to change the system. What is interesting is that, in my experience of having spent eight years in a provincial legislature and five and some here, it is usually the people who lose that want change.
Let me give the House an example. From 1987 to 1990 I was part of the David Peterson government in the province of Ontario. The leader of the opposition was the hon. Bob Rae. Mr. Rae and his caucus would put out platforms on parliamentary reform saying that they needed more free votes, more power for backbenchers and more power to the people. They would stand on their hind legs and make these pronouncements. Then we all remember what happened. It was an accident in history. All of a sudden that same Bob Rae woke up as the premier of Ontario one morning and said, “Holy smokes, how did that happen?” There is nothing more fearful to an individual or more frightening than when he or she actually wins when not expecting to. Hence, he became premier.
Did we see changes? What we actually saw in the Ontario legislature was a tightening of the screws. Members of that caucus and party could not go to the washroom without permission from the whip never mind having the freedom to stand up and speak their minds and do as they wished. He went from being a loser, whining about not having enough freedom to express views, to having won the responsibility to govern.
Let me address that for a moment. What I hear in this place, particularly from the opposition members in an attempt to discredit the government which I understand is their job, is that we should have votes on everything in parliament. They feel that the government should not have the authority to go out and make a decision when in fact the government, which is the Prime Minister and the cabinet, not only has the authority to make a decision it has the responsibility.
If we were to put every issue on the floor of the House of Commons and only move on that issue, and if we had a majority vote each and every time, we would polarize this nation. We would put ourselves in the position of being unable to act in the best interests of the majority government that was elected by the people of this country. It would be an addication of the responsibility of the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and of those on this side of the House who support the government.
A backbencher is technically not part of the government. One can declare oneself to be a backbencher in support of the government or, in the case of the opposition, to be a backbencher not in support of the government. As we have seen from time to time there are members on this side of the House who would call themselves backbenchers not in support of the government. It is the way the system works.
We talk about reform. We can have one-, two-, or three-, line. I was a whip for five years in Ontario. I understand the process. I was a candidate for the leadership of the provincial Liberal party in Ontario in 1991 and I had a platform. I had a platform that came from Jim Coutts who was one of the advisers to the Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Guess what the platform included? It was unbelievable. It could have been, should have been, might have been but was not. What can I tell the House. It was not my decision. I voted for me, although there is no proof because it was a secret ballot.
Let me go to the issue of secret ballots in committees. What a farce. To suggest that somehow it is the democratization of this place is the most laughable fraud that has been perpetrated upon the people by the people in this place, that somehow it has freed us up and we are running down the street yelling that we are free, we can vote the way we want.
I was not here for the vote. I was in Norad doing something that I thought was important: learning about the North American defence system; learning about what we would do in case of a missile attack from North Korea; and learning about what Canadians do in the military to help support the United States to keep North America safe. I thought that was more important than worrying about how we elect vice-chairs and chairs of committees. I was not here for the vote, but if I were I would have voted against the motion. Someone who does not live in the beltway, who does not totally understand the issue, might ask me why I would vote against secret ballots.
Every time we vote in this place we should be required to stand up and say, “I am the member for Mississauga West and here is my vote”. We should not have the option of doing it in secret. The only secret ballot that should apply in a democracy, and with respect I know we have made an exception to elect the Speaker, is the one that is in the hands of the people. They will cast their secret ballots and that is exactly what they have done.
In 1993 they cast secret ballots and they sent a majority to this place that is represented by the Liberal Party. They did it again in 1997, through secret ballot, and again in 2000. My advice to the opposition is if it wants more power it should get more members elected. That is what it is about. It is not about coming here and saying “I ran on a campaign that said everything was rotten in Parliament and it is undemocratic but I lost, so now I am going to tear down the institution from within”.
That is what is happening with all of this. I respectfully suggest, and I might be in the minority, that this is a travesty and a waste of time of the talent of the men and women on all sides who should be working hard on behalf of Canadians instead of spending an entire day on this, and now the opposition wants more time. Our House leader has to negotiate with other House leaders in committee, so there is give and take. They give us this bill or that bill or that vote or let us get on with this and we will give the opposition more time. Then it has the nerve to stand up and say it is our idea.
We want to get on with the business of the government, the business of the people of Canada. We want to get on with dealing with things that matter to Canadians. What has happened here through the negotiation process with the House leaders is that our House leader is finding himself shackled because the opposition members want the opportunity to stand up. They know it is a glorious opportunity to stand up and say that the government and the Prime Minister are awful as if the Prime Minister invented the parliamentary system. They say he is a dictator.
If we were to go back to the beginning to Sir John A., we would find that the parliamentary system has had a basic core based on the British parliamentary system that has not changed. One might argue then should we change? Well sure, let us make some changes that take ideas to committees. What is interesting is that if a committee wants to do that it can order its own business. Committees should travel more, get out into the countryside. They should meet with Canadians and hear what they have to say. However, what happens?