Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to take part in this debate on a motion by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough
Before jumping into this debate, I want to congratulate his colleague, the member for Calgary Southwest and new leader of the Conservative Party, on his win yesterday. I wish him a happy honeymoon. His intellectual thoroughness will no doubt ensure quality debates in the House of Commons.
This motion is based on certain premises. Unfortunately, these premises have no basis. There is criticism about lack of change. However, those who say that are closing their eyes to what is going on here. Reference was made to a lack of new legislation. Such a conclusion could only be drawn by someone truly out of touch with what goes on in Parliament. Democratic reform was mentioned. The members opposite often talk about democratic reform, but it is increasingly apparent to me that these are hollow words for them, since they did not have the courage to do what we did in this area. I will show the House what I mean.
Our brand new government was sworn in barely three months ago. Almost immediately, we were confronted with the Auditor General's report. Faced with allegations like those from the people across the way, particularly following that report, no government has ever acted as promptly, or in such a determined and transparent way, to get to the bottom of the matter. Never.
It is not just the words. Let us look at concrete facts. For the first time, to my knowledge, in the history of our Parliament, cabinet documents have been revealed to a parliamentary committee so that it could get to the bottom of all this. That was a first. An investigation was conducted by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which was convened earlier than planned. An independent inquiry was set up under Justice Gomery with absolutely extraordinary powers to get to the bottom of the matter. A special prosecutor has been appointed to recover any funds that might have been misused.
This set of measures is a perfect illustration of our approach to problems when they arise. It is a perfect illustration of the approach recommended by the Prime Minister to deal with the problems faced by our government.
The Conservatives are deploring, using rather dubious arguments at that, the lack of new bills, claiming that therefore nothing is getting done in Parliament. This is such a simplistic approach, to judge what is being done in Parliament by the number of bills before it, so simplistic that it is almost beyond comment.
It shows that they have grasped absolutely nothing about democratic reform. It also shows that they are not interested in what is done in committees. Committees are not necessarily involved only with bills. There are a number of other things they can do, and I will give some examples in a moment. Neither are they interested in the take note debates held in this House, which are so vital as a reflection of what the Canadian public thinks of the hot issues of the day. Does none of this count as parliamentary work?
To reduce parliamentary work to a mere list of bills is to mislead the public. Nevertheless, I shall offer in a moment proof that many new things have been introduced, including bills.
Since our government was sworn in, democratic reform has not only been a major issue in our debates in this House, it has also been the object of concrete actions taken unilaterally by this side of the House, after inviting opposition members to join us. To this day, I am still waiting for a reply to the invitation that I sent them to reform parliament to make it more receptive to the needs of Canadians. I am still waiting for a reply.
Now, I see that some very nice rhetoric is being used in electoral platforms, such as “We are supporting it”. What reform are they talking about? Are they talking about words or actions? About words coming from members opposite, or about actions taken by us?
Here is a concrete example of our efforts to implement a democratic reform. Members opposite know about this and, in fact, they agreed to it because they had no choice. Indeed, from a political point of view, it was neither proper nor feasible to reject this initiative.
The Supreme Court told us, in a ruling, that the criterion that we had been using, namely that to be recognized a political party must have 50 candidates, was unconstitutional. Some quick action was in order to correct the situation and act on this ruling.
We succeeded in doing two things regarding this issue, and this very simply. First, we tabled a new bill which, in the short term, will allow us to prevent the use of political parties for financing purposes. This is somewhat technical, but there is an important issue here. For the first time in our history, we have a definition of a political party. We did not have such a definition in our legislation before. Now we do.
Nevertheless, what I have done as well, as government House leader, at the instigation of the Prime Minister and our cabinet, of course, has been to say, let us go further. This is where democratic reform becomes important. Let us go further.
The consequences of this ruling are much broader than those covered in this bill. Is there a way to make the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs—a multi-party committee where all parties are represented—responsible for examining these consequences, producing and actually writing a draft bill, and not a draft bill written by the bureaucracy, however good it may be, or by a minister, however good he or she may be, but written by parliamentarians tackling a problem that affects all Canadians, that affects the definition of a political party, that affects the very foundation of our democracy?
We have implemented democratic reform. We have announced that the role of parliamentarians will be strengthened. I remind you that they have not yet agreed to this reform. Nevertheless, why is there a need to reform the role of MPs? The answer is simple. When a member rises to vote here in the House, and is told how to vote, when he goes home to his riding and talks to people, they ask him, “Why did you vote that way?” He replies, “I had no choice; I had to”. That is not representation. That is an echo; it is transmitting a decision made by Ottawa to the riding and not the opposite.
We have introduced the principle of a free vote. What does that mean? Each of us must assume our own responsibilities. When, as MPs, we assume our responsibilities and return to our ridings, we are accountable to the people. With free votes, the people will have the power to evaluate their elected representatives.
We have already been doing this. Other than those votes identified in the action plan, related to the budget or fundamental issues for the government, such as the throne speech, all the other votes in the House have been free votes and, for those opposite, not free votes. That is what we have done in concrete terms.
Democratic reform is absolutely fascinating. Currently, five provinces are seriously considering this issue. In fact, measures have been taken. I spent 24 hours in Vancouver. The day before yesterday, I went to Vancouver to meet the Citizens' Assembly.
The Citizens' Assembly in B.C. is a beautiful experience which proves that if we call upon what citizens have best to offer, they do offer the best. I came back from B.C. inspired. They are working on the other side of democratic reform, which is how people are sent here to represent them. We in this House have started to work on what it means to be representing the people. These two things are complementary.
I met with students at the Université de Chicoutimi and professors at the Université Laval. I met my colleague in Quebec City, the minister responsible for democratic reform. There is a fundamental movement inspiring the young and the not so young that has a growing national presence. This motivating and idealistic movement seeks democratic reform in the true sense of the term.
Our democracy is meaningful and has stood the test of time. It is time to take the next step. That is what we are doing, and they are still refusing to join in. They are lagging behind and there is nothing we can do about it.
Democratic reform is also, and above all in my opinion, a question of confidence. That is why, as the government, we have adopted measures reinforcing ethics standards and ensuring more transparent management of public finances. All this has been done here, and yet the opposition dares to say that no work is being done here. Can it be serious for two seconds? Can it be open-minded enough to stop playing petty politics and understand and recognize what has been happening here over the past three months alone?
While the parties opposite—in particular the Conservative Party of Canada—persisted in waging procedural battles when we came back to the House, we brought in a time allocation motion on procedural debates so that we could move on to substantive issues. We felt it was important for substance to prevail in this House in order to serve the public; procedure no, substance yes.
It is quite fascinating when we see the agenda that this government has already set for Canadians for the 21st century. Let us look at it. There is a new deal for Canadian communities. There are bold initiatives in health care, including transfers to provinces, of course, but also the creation of a public health agency. There are innovative measures for early childhood learning and child care. There are innovative measures to help students; we know how heavy the debts are on students.
There is a much needed environmental program to clean up contaminated sites. We have a plan to develop a 21st century knowledge based economy. There is the promotion of Canada's international role. I can give complete examples of a number of things which have already been done within the framework of this Speech from the Throne. They have already been done here in this House and those people do not even know they exist.
This is just the beginning. Tomorrow, my colleague, the Minister of Finance, will table this government's first budget. With seven consecutive balanced budgets, Canada is in a league of its own in the G-8. The budget also will introduce new financial control measures. In short, this government's plan has Canada poised to achieve unparalleled success.
Winston Churchill once said, “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind”. This is also a reminder to all of us that government has a responsibility to innovate.
Just over three months ago, the Prime Minister's government entered office determined to modernize government and to provide solutions to the rising concerns and priorities of Canadians. We created a new public safety and emergency preparedness department to promote safety for all Canadians. We instituted a new public health agency to better manage public health risks. We restructured the former department of human resources development to arm Canadians with two strong proponents for social policy.
To govern is also to listen. We are all aware of the challenges of globalization. The people demonstrating at the summits have to be heard. They represent the desire for social conscience that we all should have.
Many of the demonstrators at the summits are young people. Our young citizens have to be heard. That is why it was so important to reinstate Bill C-3, and allow Africa to get drugs from Canada under conditions beneficial to that continent, in order to address its problems and pandemics.
Yes, this bill was first introduced under the former government. I will not apologize for continuing to be concerned about Africa because we have a new government. I have no reason to apologize. Africa needs our help. We have to be there to help.
It is the same for tariffs. Hon. members know there are preferential tariffs that provide less developed nations access to our markets without tariff barriers. This helps them to start to develop their own industries. I have no reason to apologize for reinstating this bill. On the contrary, I am proud to do so.
As for the ethics bill, we began to study it a while ago. Your humble servant, at the time a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, worked with the hon. members on establishing the position of ethics commissioner—independent and reporting not to the Prime Minister, but to Parliament. Was I to say that we should no longer do that because the government has changed? That would be nonsense. It was good, it was necessary, and we are doing it.
I could continue in this vein for a very long time. For example, we all know how strongly Canadians feel about the Assisted Human Reproduction Act.
We had begun work on a bill containing measures to prevent the exploitation of children. If the opposition could be serious for 30 seconds, could it say that we should have let that legislation drop just because we have a new government? Should we say that, because we have a new government, it is no longer worthwhile to protect our children? Of course not; that is ridiculous. Of course it is a worthwhile bill. Of course we brought it back. And of course I hope that it will be passed quickly.
The same is true of the sexual offenders bill. For those interested in specifics, it is Bill C-16.
We are not guided by dogma, or division, but by what we think is good—in our opinion—for the people of Canada.
I would like to speak to you a little about leadership in action and initiative. We are a new government and we are advocating a new culture; our approach is new and we are implementing a new program. Unfortunately, rather than trying to understand how important this is for Canadians, the other side is content to laugh stupidly, without really understanding what is going on. This revolution is beyond them. They have not yet understood it. It will take time; they will understand one day, not because they want to understand, but because the public will force them to understand.
Today, we are introducing a bill on whistleblowers. This means that a public servant who observes activities that are not normal or proper or acceptable in the management of public funds or in procedures, will be able to denounce such activities without fear of reprisal.
I hope that I will not hear that this bill will be opposed. It is a bill that ensures we will have more means of better administering government.
The health bill, as I have said previously, includes $2 billion in transfer payments to the provinces, plus the equalization arrangements. Moreover, the Bloc Quebecois, with all its loud hilarity, voted against equalization; yet Quebec benefits from it. Incidentally, they voted against the $2 billion for health care.
We are also going to introduce a bill implementing an agreement with British Columbia, Manitoba and the first nations on allocating parts of national parks to certain reserves to meet urgent housing needs.
The government we want to give Canadians is a government of passion, a government that is inspired and is not afraid to innovate.
No government can be perfect. We cannot provide perfect government, but we do have a duty to acknowledge what has not been done well and, above all, to learn from it.
This is a new approach. What we want to provide Canadians is a straightforward government, one that is not afraid to break down barriers, a government that brings people together. Canadians take pride in the lead role played by our country in a number of areas, including our international credibility and our social conscience. What we want to provide is a government that chooses to build bridges to the future rather than rehashing the past.
Canadians will be able to differentiate between allegations made in a motion that is not unexpected—a surprise to no one—and seek political revenge, and our government's determination to work to further enhance the greatness of our country, inspired by the people in all regions of Canada, a Canada where the best is yet to come. A Canada of ideals and vision, a Canada that will inspire our youth to great things.
A vote in favour of this motion is a vote in favour of the past; a vote against it, a vote for the future.