Mr. Speaker, procedural authorities contend that the Mace itself enjoys absolutely no procedural significance whatsoever. It is not required for the House to sit, and our rights and privileges do not depend upon it. The Mace is a symbol of the House's authority.
What we do depend on, in a concrete way, is a fair Speaker to interpret the rules of procedure and to protect the rights of members.
You, Mr. Speaker, have done an excellent job since your election and I am certain that when the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca waived the Mace in front of your chair his anger and frustration were not directed at you personally or at the authority of your office. I am certain that the member has the utmost respect for the office you hold and for you personally. Your job is a difficult one. We need to support our Speaker if this place is to function at all.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, the first Speaker for which we have a record was Simon de Montfort, who apparently presided over the so-called mad parliament that met at Oxford on June 11, 1258. The mad parliament was not a popular assembly. Simon de Montfort's famous parliament of 1265 introduced the principle of popular representation for the first time and set itself against the tyranny of the court. It owes its derogatory title to those whose abuses it sought to check.
If the Liberal government does not change its ways, Mr. Speaker, I am afraid you may end up presiding over the maddest parliament ever.
In the introduction of Jeffrey Simpson's book, The Friendly Dictatorship , he points out that:
Canadian parliamentary democracy, as it has evolved, places more power in the hands of the prime minister than does any other democracy, far more than the U.S. president wields, but more, too, than what political leaders exercise in other parliamentary regimes.
Those seeking a check or balance against this most unbridled Prime Minister are just frustrated by the actions of the government and the Prime Minister.
Last Wednesday may serve as a wake up call. We must get serious about reforming this institution and we can start by eliminating the only obstacle that stands in our way, this Liberal government. The anger displayed by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca was directed at the government and the tactics it used against freedom and democracy and, in this case, the interference with private members' business.
To put this in context, I have a few facts on private members' business. Two hundred and thirty-five bills have been introduced by MPs from all political parties. None have made it past third reading. Only two House private members' bills have made it to a vote at second reading, less than 1%. The two bills that did make it into committee stage in the 36th parliament were killed in committee by the Liberal majority on those committees. Liberals can avoid voting on controversial issues by not deeming them votable, and when they do, they move motions to withdraw them or kill them at committee.
With respect to Senate private members' bills, the government has demonstrated that it has more respect for the unelected Senate. The only three bills that have received royal assent have come from the Senate. They are: Bill S-10, parliamentary poet laureate, Bill S-14, Sir John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier Day, and Bill S-22, the national horse of Canada. There were 481 motions introduced and only 5 have been adopted, just over 1%. We have had over 150 hours of debate in the House during this parliament for consideration of private members' business, $45 million worth of House time used to no avail.
The procedure and House affairs committee had until April 2, 2002, to come to some sort of arrangement to make all items votable. It decided in December 2001 that it could not do anything about it. The committee motion that ended the study and quashed the hopes of the backbench was moved by the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary.
Let me remind the House that private members' business is about members of the House being able to vote both their personal and their constituents' wishes. As my colleague from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca said “The Prime Minister's Office violated the greatest right we have. It took away our right to vote”.
I would be interested in hearing what the Liberal member for Mississauga East might have to say on this topic. In the last parliament, her bill regarding consecutive sentencing was attacked viciously by her own colleagues. They moved a motion similar to the one moved against the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, but thanks to free votes, the amendment was defeated. I will talk more about free votes in a moment, but first I will finish this story.
The bill sponsored by the member for Mississauga East survived the first attack and was sent to committee. At committee her colleagues deleted every single clause in the bill and reported back a blank piece of paper to the House. Once again, thanks to free votes and the efforts of the opposition, the clauses were restored. The bill was attacked repeatedly again, but finally made it to the Senate. The Liberals in the Senate were more successful than those in this House and the bill was unfortunately killed.
That is what is causing great frustration in the House, not only on this side but also on the Liberal side. That is why members of all parties have come to my colleague and said that what he did was wrong, and we all agree with that, but his frustration is understood by members from all sides of the House.
The Liberal motion waged against the bill sponsored by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca was successful because it was a whipped vote. Traditionally, private members' votes are free votes. The tradition of the Mace is important, but is not the tradition of free votes just as important? There is a Biblical comparison to this type of behaviour and it is found in Luke 11:39:42:
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but instead you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs but you neglect...You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone”.
In that context, I am puzzled today to see the government so focused on this issue. Normally it does not give a damn about defending the rights and traditions of this institution. Its disrespect for parliament, its members and the people who elected us is well documented.
I will return to the issue of free votes. If the vote on the motion to derail the member's bill were actually a free vote then we in the opposition would have fewer reasons to be upset. Allowing members to vote more freely would reduce some of the frustration and anxiety in this Chamber.
Do you remember, Mr. Speaker, that when my party put forward a supply motion that would have required the government to compensate hepatitis C victims the Prime Minister ordered a whipped vote and some Liberal members were actually crying when forced to vote down the motion?
Do you remember, Mr. Speaker, how embarrassed Liberal members were, and in particular the Minister of Finance who was instrumental in penning the first red book, when Liberal members had to vote against a supply motion to implement a Liberal red book promise? The promise to appoint an independent ethics counsellor who reports directly to parliament was a good idea, but the Prime Minister ordered his members to vote it down because he was never serious about that promise.
Here is another example. My party put forth a motion in the 36th parliament to “axe, scrap, abolish” the GST. The axe, scrap and abolish part of the motion was in quotations because those words were uttered by the Prime Minister and other members of the Liberal caucus during the election. Once again, Liberals had to vote down their own words.