Madam Speaker, anybody watching the debates today on television or perhaps reading Hansard in the future might well ask why people were talking about toothpaste selection for criminals and sniffer dogs and so on. They may ask what on earth that had to do with the animal cruelty bill that is before us today. They could be forgiven for asking that question. I think it is a reasonable question.
Why is that happening? Why is it that not a single Liberal has been up today to defend the bill? Maybe there was earlier in the day, but certainly not in the last few hours. Not a single member of the government is willing to defend the bill at this point in time. Why is that? Why is it that out of approximately 170 Liberal members of parliament not one is getting up to defend the bill right now?
Yet on this side of the House almost every Canadian Alliance MP is getting up to speak against the bill. They are being very repetitive. They are talking about twinning highways and sniffer dogs and things like that. It is a reasonable question, why is that happening?
The root cause of this is frankly the lack of democracy in this place. If people out there do not already know, it is because they are not really debates that we have in this place. They are statements that are put on the record.
Even if we convince every Liberal member that what we are saying about the bill is correct, they will be told to vote for it when we vote on it in a few days time. Even the ones who are desperately against it, who have had tons of input from their own constituents that they should vote against it, will still vote for it. It is because this place for the most part is controlled not by the debates that we have here, not by logic and reasonable discussion, but by decisions that are made elsewhere. The decisions are made by unelected people, by a few people in the Prime Minister's Office, by bureaucrats who often make incorrect decisions.
It defies logic to believe that on the government side of the House Liberal MPs are not receiving the same sort of input that we are. That there is not a single Liberal MP who has not had a letter, a phone call, an e-mail or a fax from a constituent pointing out the problems with this bill defies logic.
I have certainly had letters from the other side urging me to pass it as soon as possible. To those people I have sent letters explaining why we are trying to hold it up. It is because there are legitimate concerns about the way the bill will apply to normal farming practices, to research practices and unfairly to people who may unwittingly cause harm to an animal. These are legitimate concerns and they should be answered by the government.
When people elect their MPs and they send them here, they are hoping to see change. They are hoping that we will come here and be able to effect meaningful change. They hope that when they give us input on their concerns that somehow we will have debates and that we will convince the other side that we are correct and changes to the bill should be made.
Admittedly, sometimes there is incremental change. Sometimes we do cause the government to move slightly. Sometimes pressure groups do the same thing. But the system here remains a long way from being truly democratic. As the saying goes, there are two things people should never see made and they are hot dogs and legislation.
Students of federal politics can certainly attest to the fact that although we are supposed to have a democracy based on the Westminster model, in fact we have quite a distinctly different system here in Canada. It more closely resembles a medieval fiefdom than a democracy. Let us look behind the scenes and see what sort of situation leads to the situation we find ourselves in today.
Our Prime Minister enjoys more power than virtually any leader of any other western democracy. Look at the president of the United States. He can have his initiatives vetoed. It is impossible in this place for anybody, including the Liberals on that side, including the minister of fisheries who is standing there. If he does not like something the Prime Minister is trying to do, he has no power to prevent it from happening.
There is something wrong with that scene. It is not the way to get good legislation. It is no wonder that many of the bills that get passed in this place turn out to be disastrous.
I can remember a classic example a few years ago when we were making changes to the railways act. No one, not a single one of us in this entire House noticed that we were voting away our own railway passes. No one in this place had bothered to read what we were discussing. It was not for a month or two later that people discovered that we had voted away our own railway travel passes and the government had to rush through an amendment.
I guess we are all to blame for not reading the legislation properly. I would advance the possibility that it is not unreasonable that the opposition members, other than the critic, would not always read every piece of legislation. However there is no excuse for the government to be putting forward pieces of legislation when it does not even know what the impact is going to be. Not one of the bureaucrats, not a single member on the government side noticed that they were voting away their own railway passes.
In a much more complex piece of legislation such as the one we are discussing today, what is it that has been missed? What is it that the Liberals are ignoring? What is it that they refuse to acknowledge is wrong in this bill? There are things wrong in this bill. We can give many examples.
There is the badly formulated employment equity bill. Look at the distortions that are out there in the marketplace now. One of my constituents phoned me to complain that the public service would no longer employ her because she was not part of a visible minority. I phoned the office where she had made a job application and that was confirmed. What sort of place are we running when we pass legislation that does that to our citizens?
There is the gun registry that my colleague mentioned. What a disaster. When that legislation was coming through the House, we warned the government that it would cost 10 times more than what it had predicted. It promised a cost of $80 million. It is almost up to $1 billion now and still the commissioner of police cannot identify a single crime that has been solved or prevented by that registry. What a waste of money.
If only we could have real debates in this place with real votes at the end that were meaningful and counted.
Sadly, even our private members' business has become more partisan as time has gone by. We had an initiative a few years ago where we changed the voting process for private members' bills so that we started the voting from the back rows, presumably so that the front row would have less influence on the voting. It has not made any difference because those in the front row I guess still send their message around and make sure that they get their way.
To the average person, the behaviour and the performance that goes on in this place must seem bizarre but there is a simple reason for it. Most of us, I guess we could say almost work in a culture of fear. If we do not behave ourselves, if we do not adhere to the will of the whip, then we miss out on all the rewards. There are no travel junkets. We do not get to sit on our favourite committee. We will not get the things that we want out of this. Yet all the while the interests of the Canadian people fall into the background because of the structured nature of this place.
Even my opportunity to get up and speak today was programmed. Most of the day I knew almost exactly within 10 minutes when I would stand in this place to speak. During question period, everyone knows who is going to be next up. It is not really a question period where there is freedom for a member with an issue to jump up and catch the attention of the Speaker in the tradition that it was meant to be. We sit in our assigned places. We take our assigned times for the speeches. We lobby to get our assigned time for question period. We lobby to get our assigned Standing Order 31 one minute statement.
This is not democracy. This is not the way we should be passing legislation in this place.
We should be having meaningful debates, not trying to hold up a bill today, as we are, just by talking about anything like I am talking about democracy in this place rather than the content of the bill because there is no alternative. There is no way to convince the government that it is a bad bill. I had no option but to fill up 10 minutes so that we can delay it for another 10 minutes, so that the next colleague in my caucus can delay it for 10 minutes as he is going to do, so that we can go into tomorrow and start it all over again.
What a sad commentary on the way we run this place. Is this really the way a government should function?