Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.
I rise to defend my Prime Minister. When I say that, you, Mr. Speaker, will know well from your experience in the House that I am one backbench MP who has many times disagreed with my Prime Minister, many times spoken in the House against my leader's legislation, and many times expressed in the most candid way that not always has the government policy been correct, although by and large, obviously, because I am on this side and not on that side, I believe it to be so.
The reason why actually I take some satisfaction in standing here with the motion and defending my Prime Minister is that I believe it is incumbent on a team and the members of the team always to support their leaders, so long as they have confidence in those leaders, and I certainly have confidence in the current Prime Minister.
If I have time I will make allusion to some of his successes in the past, which include reducing the debt by $100 billion, turning back the forces that would split the country apart, the forces of separatism, and most importantly, the position he took on Iraq, which led Canada away from a traditional course and into a new course of independence in foreign affairs that I think will reverberate down through the ages.
It is not easy being a leader. I think one of the characteristics of a good leader is the ability to make decisions knowing full well that from time to time a mistake will be made. It is not easy, sometimes, to make these decisions and be brave. It is easy in hindsight or easy to sit on the side benches or from behind the curtains to second guess the decisions of a leader, but the reality is that to lead is a difficult task. So long as we, the members of the team, have confidence in that leader, then we should be supporting him. I do so now.
Let me address two points that have come up in this debate. One is the question of why the Prime Minister chose to leave in February 2004 rather than at some earlier time. I was there at Chicoutimi about 14 months ago at the national caucus meeting where the Prime Minister announced that he would leave in February 2004. Now, I have watched this person for a very long time and I understand his knowledge of the House, and I have acquired some knowledge of the House myself. You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that February is a very appropriate time because it is budget month and budgets for the government are prepared 11 months in advance.
So in fact, in February the presentation of the budget marks the end of a year of governance. Reading the current Prime Minister's mind, I am sure he would think that February would be an appropriate time to leave office because he would obviously have the satisfaction of leaving government in very good shape, because as we know from the current finance minister's remarks yesterday, it does appear that we are going to continue with a surplus situation. This means that the current Prime Minister is going to leave the financial situation of the country in good state and I think I can say quite confidently that this would be part of his strategy to ensure that his successor, whoever that might be, will have the best ammunition possible to go forward in the next election.
There is a second reason, which I think came up subsequently to his original choice of February, as to why the current Prime Minister would want to stay on until the new year, even though the convention date at which the party will pick a new leader is in mid-November. I refer to Bill C-24, the political financing act, which kicks in on January 1, 2004. This legislation overhauls and reforms much of the political financing mechanisms that are used at the federal level.
In fact, the federal Parliament had fallen well behind many of the provincial legislatures in terms of the transparency and the rules that should apply to political financing of riding associations, political parties and so on and so forth. Obviously not only would the Prime Minister want to see the next election fought under these new rules, the only way he could be certain of that would be to stay in office at least until the new year.
I am not suggesting that his successor would not want to fight an election under these reformed political financing rules, but the reality is that in the debate on Bill C-24 there were a lot of reservations among MPs on this side of the House and on the opposition side.
The reality is that a new leader chosen in mid-November would come under immediate pressure, no doubt about it, to call an election at that time. By staying on until the new year, the current Prime Minister guarantees that his successor does not have to deal with that type of pressure and that his successor can, in an orderly fashion, work toward preparing himself for his new role as the prime minister.
There has also been quite a bit of debate here that in this sort of interregnum period we are in right now government legislation and government operations are stalled. I think that we on this side of the House have to be candid and admit that this is indeed, to some degree, the case. Some legislation has been stalled. We are not advancing forward as quickly as we should on some bills. I particularly refer to Bill C-7, the Indian accountability bill, which is a very important bill. Also, the citizenship bill is stalled as well in committee, and there are other examples like that.
But I do not think that we can lay the blame either on the current Prime Minister or on his possible successor, because what has really happened is that my colleagues on this side are experiencing something they have never experienced before, and that is a leadership race, which always, I am told, because this is my first experience, activates loyalties, because politics and leadership races are very partisan processes. I think that some members on the Liberal side have indeed had trouble understanding where their loyalties should lie while this debate goes on.
I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the weakness that the opposition is seeing is really a certain amount of confusion among my colleagues. That confusion is reflected sometimes in the lack of attendance at question period and sometimes in the lack of participation in open debate.
I am absolutely confident that after November 15 when the question of party leadership is settled and it is very clear that there will be a change in prime minister in three months, I fully expect my colleagues will have no problem then differentiating between the party leader and the prime minister.
I would expect, Mr. Speaker, that you can look forward to an active Parliament, not a Parliament that is dismissed, not a Parliament that is prorogued, but MPs who are willing on this side to continue to tackle aggressively the issues of the day. I am very confident that it has been simply a questionof a new experience where suddenly members of the Liberal caucus have a sense of divided loyalties, but that shall pass.
Finally, I would just like to reiterate that the Bloc motion makes it very clear that even the Prime Minister's traditional political enemies in terms of separatism acknowledge that this Prime Minister has earned the right to go when he chooses. I think the NDP is correct in supporting this side, which will most assuredly defeat this motion.