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House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was date.

Topics

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Noon

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—St. Clair.

I welcome the debate before the House today and welcome the Conservative Party for catching up on one of my ideas. I tabled a motion in the House on February 11, 2004, calling for a fixed election date. Then, on the Order Paper on April 1, 2004, on April Fool's Day, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Conservative Party tabled a motion regarding a fixed election date. I am very glad that the Conservative Party is doing the same thing that we in the New Democratic Party initiated before.

Our party passed a resolution at our convention, which happened to have been held in Ottawa in 1999, calling for a fixed election and fixed budget dates. I also wrote an article in the National Post calling for a fixed election date and I think the date of that was November 12, 2000.

Our party has been on record now for quite awhile, including having had the first motion in the House on a fixed election date in support of the idea. I welcome the Conservatives onboard the train and therefore we will be supporting the motion before the House today.

The idea behind a fixed date is to take the power away from the Prime Minister, or indeed the premiers at the provincial level, to establish a date that is best to his or her liking in terms of the chances of being re-elected. In other words, we are trying to democratize the system to make it more fair, to create a level playing field, and to ensure things are more in balance for every point of view in the country.

Now we have a Prime Minister who talks about the democratic deficit. One way of alleviating part of that democratic deficit is by ensuring we have a fixed election date so the power of setting the date is out of the hands of the Liberal Party pollsters and the Liberal Prime Minister's advisers, and the Prime Minister himself. It would be put in statute so that we would all be on a level playing field and we would all have a fair chance at the date, whenever it is.

Currently, a prime minister or premier can set the date. If the government knows there is a financial crisis coming, there could be an election ahead of time. If there is a sponsorship scandal or some other scandal, one could delay the election from what was being planned, May 10. I do not think that is a closely guarded secret. The government could delay the election to what the Prime Minister's inclination is now, which is to announce the election a week Sunday for June 14. Some of his advisers are saying that maybe we should wait about a year and have it in May or June 2005.

These are all the games that are being played. These are also played at every provincial level as premiers and prime ministers set the date to find a window when they can win their respective election campaigns.

If we were serious about democratic reform, the democratic deficit in the country, we could start with a fixed election date so that no matter what happened, the date would occur every, say third Monday in June or October, or whatever date we fixed, unless the government fell in a confidence vote.

I think our party and the Alliance Party, now the Conservative Party, had made that very clear. I think the Bloc Quebecois said the same thing. If the government were to fall in a confidence vote then of course an election would take place. But, without that, there should be a fixed date. Many countries have fixed dates around the world and they work very well.

We have had the first steps toward a fixed date in our country. Premier Campbell of British Columbia, a couple of years ago, brought in a law and set the election date in B.C. four years hence. Everybody knows when the election in British Columbia will take place. I think it is sometime in 2005. I fully endorse the idea. It is put in statute so that the Premier of British Columbia, if he has a very major problem, cannot delay it or if he has a sudden jump in the polls cannot pull the election out of the hat six or seven months ahead of time. I think that is a wonderful idea.

I also want to place on the record something that is not very well known because it happened quite a few years ago in Saskatchewan. I know that the Conservative Party member for Brandon—Souris is fully aware of this. Tommy Douglas, who was the premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 until 1961, was elected in June 1944.

At the time he was elected there were a few conservative minded people, because it was the first democratic socialist government anywhere in North America that said there might not be any more elections. What Tommy Douglas said as premier was that there would be elections held every four years in the month of June. Therefore, we had elections in June 1944 when he was elected, June 1948, June 1952, June 1956 and June 1960. In 1961 he became leader of the federal New Democratic Party and his successor broke that pattern with an election in April 1964. After that elections have been held all over the map.

One of the things Tommy told me a few months before he died was that his one regret was that he did not put in statute that there had to be an election every four years in the month of June in Saskatchewan. As soon as he left, the convention he created disappeared with the premiers of our party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. Elections were then announced whenever the premier thought it was best for him in terms of electoral prospects.

That is why we support the motion before the House today. It is a move toward democratic reform. It is a move toward taking power away from the executive and the Prime Minister, and putting it into the hands of the people so that all parties and all competing points of view have an equal chance of an equal start in terms of a general election campaign.

I cannot imagine that happening in a sporting event. I see the member for Wild Rose here, who was a great baseball catcher years ago, if I am not mistaken. He knows that in sport everybody has to have an equal start and a fair chance, and play by the same rules. If one is in a foot race, everyone starts at the same place when the starter gun goes off and everyone hears the starter pistol. However, in this country and in every province, except British Columbia, the starter pistol is the hand of the premier or the hand of the prime minister. I think that is wrong.

I appeal to the Prime Minister if he is serious about democratic reform and democratic deficit. He should be announcing in Parliament, as soon as possible, that the next election date will be June 14, June 21, October, November or whatever. Every four years thereafter there would be an election campaign. If he were serious about democratic reform that is what he would do.

If he wants to do politics differently, that is what the Prime Minister should do. He should tell us the date ahead of time. All the law requires now is that there be a minimum notice. I believe it is 36 days. He could announce the election campaign 37 days ahead, or 47 days ahead, or a year ahead. The Premier of British Columbia announced it four years ahead. If the Prime Minister were a true reformer in terms of democratic deficit, that is what he would do.

What I have seen this new Prime Minister do has not been very democratic in many cases. He has actually appointed candidates to run in certain ridings in British Columbia. That is not democratic at all. I saw a Canadian citizen from Burnaby--Douglas, from the Liberal Party, crying on television because he campaigned for a nomination for months and sold hundreds of memberships for months, and now he is being denied an opportunity to run because the Prime Minister is going to appoint a friend, who is the president of the British Columbia Liberal Party, as the candidate in Burnaby--Douglas. The Prime Minister has already done that in two or three other British Columbia ridings.

There is an old saying that we should be careful when we criticize others too because it is not only the Liberal Party where these types of anti-democratic activities occur. There is probably no other Canadian politician I disagree with more than the former Conservative Premier of Saskatchewan, Grant Devine, who ran our province into huge debt and saw 16 members of his government convicted criminally.

I have a lot of criticism of him. He wanted to run for the new Conservative Party in the riding of Souris--Moose Mountain. He went out and campaigned for a nomination and sold memberships for nominations and the Conservative Party in Ottawa, from on high, denied him the right to seek the nomination. That is not right either. Every Canadian citizen, when they buy a party membership should have the right to seek a nomination: my party, the Bloc, the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Green Party and every party in this country.

The party that has abused that the most has been the Liberal Party of Canada and former Prime Minister Chrétien. The current Prime Minister is following the policy of Jean Chrétien by appointing people to run in various ridings. If members cannot meet the test of membership in their own riding, then they should not deserve to have the nomination for that riding.

I encourage all members to support the motion before the House.

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12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not think that the House or Canadians would have a big problem with fixing dates. Certainly, there are some arguments that could be made that it may cause longer election periods because people, knowing when an election date was, would have a longer period in which to start gearing up and may extend that. It may be more costly, but that may be a minor point.

I want to ask the member with regard to the situation we are in currently. It has to do with the situation where the prime minister of the day stepped down and was replaced, and all of a sudden there was a new prime minister who was then in a situation where he was governing on the basis of a platform and subsequent throne speeches which another government had adopted.

Does the hon. member feel this would somehow interfere with the opportunity and maybe the requirement of a new leader to go to the people for a mandate so that the government is not encumbered, as it were, by a previous mandate and that it could get a mandate to govern on possibly new ideas and new directions from the prior government?

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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Like always, Madam Speaker, the member across the way makes a very valid point. Sometimes there is a situation like today where there is a new prime minister in the same or governing party. Should the government have the right to seek a mandate? That is something we should look at as a parliamentary committee.

Sometimes it is close to the end of the term where I do not think it is that important that a new mandate be sought. If there was a four year term and this happens well into the third year, the government should go the full four years. However, often it happens in the middle of the term. The member makes a strong argument that we should look at an exception where there should be an election campaign to seek a mandate.

I can think of a number of cases and I recall when Lucien Bouchard went back to be Premier of Quebec. He went back after about a year or so into Premier Parizeau's term. Maybe there should have been an election campaign there where he had to seek a fresh mandate.

This is why there should be a parliamentary committee looking into the fixed date idea. When should the election be? What exceptions might there be? A motion of confidence is certainly one of those exceptions. If the government were to fall on a motion of confidence, under an allotted day, there would not necessarily have to be an election, as the member knows. However, the Governor General could decide to call in someone else to be the prime minister and form a brand new government. That power now exists with the Crown. In all likelihood if the government were to fall, there would be an election, but these are things we should look at.

We should have a fixed election date every four years and parties could even plan their leadership conventions a bit more in accordance with the four year term. The former Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, did want to stay much longer. He was pushed out of office and even after he was pushed out of office, he wanted to stay until February of this year, but there were people in the current Prime Minister's entourage who were salivating, wanting the Prime Minister to take over before Christmas. Now they might be wishing he had not because of the sponsorship scandal. But they pushed Jean Chrétien out of office anyways. Jean Chrétien had a mandate and if the Liberal Party would have planned in accordance with that mandate, we would not have to be considering a special election because of a new leader of the Liberal Party.

Some of this is common sense and proper planning. I do not want to speculate on the member's feelings about the current Prime Minister and the former one, but I think his advice to the Liberal Party would have been to have a leadership convention toward the end of its mandate and have a new prime minister within months of the new election campaign. Now, of course, that did not happen and I assume the Liberal Party did not take his advice because I am sure that is the advice he would have given to his party if he were to tell us publicly what he actually did say.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, like my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the motion and the issues that surround it. It is one that we have been considering for quite some time and, as the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle indicated, is one that we have placed before the House on previous occasions.

I believe there is a mood in the country that wants us to address these types of issues. We tout ourselves as a democracy, and we have every right to do so. However, to say that we are a perfect democracy would in fact be a fallacy, and we should not do that. Nor should we ever be satisfied that our democracy, whatever stage it is at, could not use improvement. I believe that is the stage we are at with regard to this issue, and probably have been for some period of time. I believe the Canadian citizenry accepts that.

We have had a great deal of debate over the last number of years about democratic reform. We know we need to reform the rules of the House in a large number of ways. We have had that need for quite some time.

From experiences we have had under the previous prime minister and the one before him, we know that further limits should be placed on the Prime Minister's Office. From opinion polls and other soundings we have taken from the electorate, we know proportional representation is an idea that is badly in need of implementation in Canada. We saw that by the independent law reform commission report just a few weeks ago.

Similarly, we are in a situation where the idea of fixed dates for elections at both the federal and provincial levels is one that the Canadian electorate wants to see implemented. We heard from our colleague from Quebec about the poll the province took, and the sense it has of the electorate. As much as 82% of the population in Quebec is saying that it should have fixed dates. I believe that is a fairly accurate reflection of the electorate across the country.

We have heard all the talk of an upcoming election in the last few months. I am constantly asked what the date is. When I say that I do not know, that it is up to the Prime Minister or his advisers, the universal response is that it is just not a good system, and it is not the way the system should work in a real democracy.

I think it speaks to Canadians from coast to coast who feel very strongly that democracy should function with rules that are fair, fair to all parties, to all candidates and to the electorate. There is a strong feeling in the country that not having fixed dates is not fair. I hear this when I canvass door to door or in public meetings.

The Canadian electorate has identified that it is not fair. The Prime Minister, as have many prime ministers before him, has tried to manipulate the situation in the country by the use of opinion polls and by sometimes spending large sums of money. We have seen the Prime Minister in these last months running around the country giving away $1 billion to $2 billion that supposedly we did not have. He has tried to manipulate the circumstances of the election, setting the groundwork that is most favourable for the party that is in power currently and using public finances to make that route more appealing. There is this sense in the country that it is not right and it is time that we changed it.

I believe we are at a stage where the government could set an example. It is an opportunity for the government to provide some leadership to the provinces. We have heard that British Columbia has already moved on this. It is time for the rest of the provinces to do it. One way to ensure that they do it would be for the federal government to take that step first.

I have listened to some of the debate put forward by my colleague from Sarnia. He said that was not the way it was done elsewhere. That has never been an excuse for us not doing what is right. We just cannot say that everyone else does it that way so we should also. There are times when democracy needs to advance and this is one of those occasions. If other countries in the world are not prepared to do that, then why should we not do it and provide some leadership.

In fact my friend from Sarnia was wrong. There are some other parliamentary democracies that have fixed election dates. We should pressing along with the theme that this is a new democratic development and is one that we should pursue. Then we would be a leader. We have the opportunity to do that.

The provinces have an opportunity to be a world leader to other parliamentary democracies. It may not work exactly the way we want it to work. We may have to experiment a little with it. However, ultimately as a society and as a vibrant democracy we will work this out and it will be step forward for democracy.

I wish to make one other point and it is one that I do not often hear come up in this discussion. It is the question of costs. Obviously, when we have something as fundamental as free elections, costs cannot be the controlling factor. I am not going to suggest that. However, it is an issue that we need to address.

When we look at the government and its history, the Liberals have called three elections. All three elections have been after periods shorter than four years, which seems to be the accepted timeframe for elections in our democracy. We have an extra cost there. If we figure it out and follow that kind of agenda, we have an extra election every decade or 12 years. The country would save money if we had fixed election dates every four years. Therefore, in every dozen years we would only have three elections as opposed to four.

It is difficult to give an exact figure, but the last figure I saw was that elections cost the country somewhere between $40 million and $60 million. When everything is taken into account, I have heard estimates as much as $100 million. We are not talking peanuts. Cost is a factor that we have to take into account.

The other cost is the cost to the political parties, the candidates and the electorate. I saw this recently in the 2003 Ontario provincial election. Because of statements from the governing party, there was great expectation that the election would be in the spring. People opened up their offices, hired staff, put in telephones, all those mundane expenses that add up to a lot of money. Then the election was postponed into the fall. People had expenses for six months of what would normally be a six week period to two months. These are added expenses that we would not never have to incur if we had fixed dates.

There are strong reasons for having fixed election dates. It is a question of democratic development moving ahead.

There is a cynicism about politics and we all know that. We see that with the number of people who do not vote, among our youth in particular but across all age groups. This is one of those steps forward. We could be saying to people that democracy is vibrant, that it is worth voting and participating. If we had a fixed election date, it would be one of those reforms that would say to people that they could stop being cynical about politics, that they could feel good, that we had fair rules, rules that would show the vibrancy of our democracy.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint John.

I am pleased to speak to a motion that represents a small step toward democratic reform, which is violently needed in this place. The motion deals with setting a fixed election date, and this is not a new idea. I have been here since 1993 and this issue has been discussed by various groups from time to time. I am really keen that at least we are starting now with some debate on real democratic reform.

The present Prime Minister promised that this would be a big issue with his party. However, I am having a difficult time trying to understand what those members are going to do and how they are going to do it. In my view no action whatsoever has taken place. Instead, a lot of the opposite has happened. The Prime Minister has selected and appointed candidates to run in specific ridings. No nomination procedure has been allowed. I find that to be totally undemocratic and shameful.

I also believe the Liberal fellow from Sarnia--Lambton, who spoke this morning, is a bit outdated. He is not interested in changing with the times. Evidently he likes the status quo. He talked about what the Liberals were doing in relationship to the Crown, et cetera. Canada celebrates July 1 as Canada Day. We are no longer a colony of the Crown. Maybe we need to discuss this matter from that point of view. Do we do things differently on that basis?

No worthwhile discussions have taken place until today with regard to any democratic reform, and fixed election days is certainly one of them.

A huge number of people in my riding desire fixed election dates. They also believe there should be fixed terms for prime ministers when they are elected, and I concur with that. That would add a great deal to the desire of the people to see more accountability. I think it will put the onus on the government for fixed dates, term limits and accountability to the people of this land.

The government is being watched more closely. It is difficult for people to judge a government on the basis of it suddenly calling an election at any time it feels like it. When there is a fixed election date, people can evaluate what the government has done with its mandate and go from there.

People in my riding are quite interested in seeing some changes along this line because they have felt for quite some time that the west has been neglected for a number of reasons. One reason is the fact that westerners do not have strong representation in the Senate because the senators are not elected. People in the west desire to see an elected Senate in a strong way.

A lot of members from other parties would like to see the Senate abolished. Personally, I believe there is a good reason to have a Senate and that reason is regional representation. We have been lacking regional representation in the west for a number of years. Through a democratic process of change, that would make some difference and would please a number of people.

The present Prime Minister said that he would address the difficulty the Liberals have had in the west for some time. He also said that he would do it before the next election so westerners could have more confidence in them. We have seen absolutely nothing.

Not too long ago, nearly 700,000 Albertans elected two gentlemen, Bert Brown and Ted Morton, who they wanted to see appointed to the Upper Chamber. We have been waiting ever since for those appointments to take place.

If the present Prime Minister or Jean Chrétien had been serious about paying more attention to the desires of the west, these gentlemen would have been appointed quite some time ago, and certainly the present Prime Minister could have done it immediately as a gesture of goodwill towards the west.

This is obviously not going to happen. It only adds fuel to the fire on the need for a more democratic process in this place. Let us start with fixed election dates. That is why we have the motion today.

I listened to the speaker from Sarnia--Lambton who talked about how if the Conservatives were in power we would have our fighting troops in Iraq. That is not necessarily so. The point is that what we had here was a prime minister who waltzed down the aisle, stood in his place across the way and boldly announced to Parliament that there would be no participation in Iraq.

Some, who were happy with that decision, cheered. Others, including me, were rather stunned, because we had not even debated it in this place. We never had any input at all. No decision was ever arrived at in the House of Commons. No open and honest dialogue ever took place. The former prime minister simply walked in and said that was what we were going to do. That was not very democratic. I think decisions should be made in a democratic process, particularly when they are of that nature.

A number of people from Canmore in my riding met with me and explained to me very thoroughly and very efficiently why they felt there should be no participation in Iraq. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to express their views in the House of Commons, along with views of others to the contrary, but I never had that opportunity. I am an elected representative of a riding of over 100,000 people, and I never had a chance in this place to express the views of the people of my riding.

Please tell me, Mr. Speaker, what is democratic about that. I am sure that you, Sir, would like to be able to express the views of your people whenever you are given a chance, but if you are not given a chance, then there is something wrong and we need to fix it.

I know that Canadians are getting awfully tired of hearing about things like a $2 million gun registry and going along with that idea to some extent and later learning that it is going to be nearly $2 billion. They get very disappointed.

Canadians get very disappointed when they hear announcements that a certain shipping company only benefited to the tune of about $37,000 in contracts but it turned out to be $161 million.

They get really upset when they hear about a $40 million secret slush fund that was used for a certain purpose and that turned out to be really $80 million.

The Canadian people have felt constantly out of the loop in this country in regard to these undemocratic things that take place. Let us fix it. Let us start today with getting fixed election dates. People in my riding support this. I know that people in a lot of ridings across this country support this, a huge majority of them. Let us grant them their heart's desire and look favourably upon this motion.

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12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, earlier today one of our colleagues from the government side referred to the fact that here on our side of the House we more or less want to break ties with the monarchy because we want fixed election dates.

I represent Canada's first city to be incorporated by royal charter. I represent the Queen here in this House probably more than anyone else, because of the position that I held in that city, and I am in favour of fixed term elections. And I am sure that if we were to agree to this, Her Majesty would have no problem with it whatsoever. I really think she is in favour of it also.

I have to say that when I look at the situation as it is today, I know that half of my colleagues on the government side are wondering if we are going to have an election in June or an election this summer or an election late in the fall. That is what they are wondering about: when we are going to have an election. And that should not be what one person can decide.

Earlier this morning, I asked a question because of the statement that was made by Tom Kent, the icon of the Liberal Party, who, in the The Globe and Mail on January 29, came out very strongly in favour of the motion that we have put forth with regard to fixed term elections.

He has worked for a number of the prime ministers. He is saying that it is time for this. He is saying that this is the democratic way. He is saying that not just one person who sits in the seat over there rules everybody in this House. We were elected by the people across this nation. The people across this nation want us to represent them.

So in preparing to speak today, I was reminded of the old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The time has come for us to take a look at this. For far too long, we have given an awesome power to the Office of the Prime Minister. For far too long, we have put our fate in those hands. Never before has that been more obvious than in the past decade and in recent weeks.

At the local level across this nation, every municipality--and I was mayor for four terms in Saint John, New Brunswick--has elections. When I was mayor, they were held every three years. The province changed that and has extended it to four years now, but elections will be held every four years.

People ask me, “Elsie, how do you feel about being in Parliament up in Ottawa?” I always say, after having been here since 1993, that local government is the government of the people, because I feel very strongly that the government, the parties, are at the other two levels. I think it is time we changed that around. We should have our local people representing us, no matter whether it is federally, provincially or locally. Right now it is locally, and I have to say that it has to be turned around, and that is because one person's office controls everything.

I remember a time when there were just two of us from our party here. Someone called me and asked, “Elsie, did you know that the government is going to break their ties with the monarchy?” I said, “They're what?” They said, “They're breaking their ties with the monarchy”. I stood in the House of Commons to ask the prime minister of the day why he wanted to break his ties with the monarchy. Then the deputy prime minister, who was seated beside him, she started screaming at the prime minister. I had never seen it happen before in all the time the prime minister was here in his lengthy service as prime minister, but he sat down, and then he stood and said, “Mr. Speaker, could the hon. member for Saint John repeat her question? I could not hear it”. Then he looked at the deputy prime minister.

I repeated my question. I asked why we were breaking our ties with the monarchy. He said, “We are not going to break our ties with the monarchy. We send a secretary over every three years to work with the Queen and I would like to know if the hon. member for Saint John would like to go. I will fly her out tomorrow”.

Our ties to the monarchy are very strong. We want to keep our ties. I think everyone in the House wants to keep our ties. Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that we should have an election date and we should have fixed term elections. I think everyone in the House knows that. I do not think that the majority of those on the government side want to have another election right now and go through that. Let us look at the costs.

Let us look at the cost of having an election whenever the Prime Minister feels he is up in the polls. I can tell hon. members right now, that being the case, we will not have an election for another year, for heaven's sake, because he is not up in the polls right now, he certainly is not.

However, polls should not determine when we have an election. It should be a fixed date. It should be an election on what we are doing, whether it is right or wrong, and the people of Canada will determine it, as they do at the local level.

The Constitution of this country was not written for the benefit of one party alone. The Constitution gives the power to the Governor General, God love her, but she only gets that power when the Prime Minister goes to her and says he will have an election and she will call it. That is not the way it should be either.

Our system has evolved to the point where the Governor General only uses that power when directed, as I have stated, by the Prime Minister. The Constitution provided this power so the government could go to the people when its time had passed or to seek their judgment on an issue of great importance. Sadly, it has now become just another card up the government's sleeve.

There are some people who oppose these measures, but the majority of people want a fixed time, like they have at the local level, as I have stated. I have to say that when we do this at the local level, the people do not elect or reject a candidate based on whether or not he or she has done something in a sponsorship program or whatever. The people look at the four years and ask what the candidate has done to build their municipality, to make it grow.

That is exactly what should be done in Canada: What has the government done that is right for the people of Canada? We do not have to worry if it is two years or three years. It is a fixed date. If the government is doing what is right, it does not have to worry about being here for that length of time.

Really and truly, I have to say that I will not get into what the government side has or has not done. I know that people in Canada are getting fed up with politicians who do not listen and who only care about the people they feel will vote for them. That is not the way it should be.

Here is what we should be doing. When I look at these young people we have here today and I look at our country, I ask what can we do for them, because they are the foundation, they are the future, and they are the ones who will probably be sitting in the House some day. I would like them to have a fixed date whereby they can get elected and be here for four years and then be elected again.

I would like to see the whole system change. I am in my eleventh year here. I have to say that when I go home and listen to my people--and believe me, they still come to me to get their roads paved and for the provincial problems they have, and I am honoured by that, I truly am-- it makes me feel good because I feel that I am representing my people.

On behalf of all of these young people here today and on behalf of those who are not here today, I have to say that it is time for us to have fixed term elections and it is time for us to vote on what is right for this country. It is not a matter of party. It is not a matter of opposition taking on the government. What it is about is what is right for this country. It is right for us to have fixed election dates and get some stability here.

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12:40 p.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my friend opposite and tried to follow the line of reasoning she laid out.

On the one hand she talked about what, in her opinion, the vast majority of people want. We have something called a Constitution, which is about the sharing and distribution of power in the country, and constitutions often are unfair. The Constitution is unfair in the opinion of, I would suggest, the vast majority of people because it states that Prince Edward Island, with a population of 130,000 people, will have four members in the House of Commons and will have four senators. That is an incredible unfairness, if one follows the line of logic opposite. However that in fact is the Constitution.

I would ask the member opposition a rhetorical question. On the basis of her perception of equality, fairness and her reading of what she thinks the public wants, would she be willing to smash that?

There are a number of treaties between the Government of Canada and first nations which a lot of people believe to be unfair. Those are, in fact, constitutional documents. Perhaps in a vote a majority might want to undo that. Is she in favour of undoing the Constitution because she believes that a majority is in favour?

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12:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure what the member was asking. His questions had absolutely nothing to do with the statement I made or with what we are debating today, which is a fixed-term election.

I know the number of members that different provinces have has been mentioned in the House before. Ontario, the western provinces, Quebec and others have a lot more than we have back east. However that has nothing to do with us having a fixed date for elections. As well, the treaties have absolutely nothing to do with it.

We are talking about whether we should have a fixed election date every four years. If the hon. member were not afraid of losing his seat he would be very much in favour of this. If he is doing what is right for all Canadians then he does not have a thing to worry about in terms of being re-elected. It is when one is not doing what is right for the people of Canada that there is something to worry about.

The member spoke today on the subject of Her Majesty. He has no idea. Some day when he visits Saint John, New Brunswick, he will be visiting Canada's first incorporated city.

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12:45 p.m.

An hon. member

He'd get a history lesson.

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12:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Yes, he certainly will have a history lesson.

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12:45 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Liberal

John Harvard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I found it interesting to listen to the hon. member from New Brunswick but after listening to her I began to wonder whether she had the requisite confidence in her fellow parliamentarians.

We have a Parliament in the country. We have responsible government which means that the government is responsible and accountable to Parliament. By having a fixed date election, basically she is saying that she would rather have a set rule and not leave this matter, of when an election should be called, to parliamentarians. That to me suggests that she does not have the kind of confidence that perhaps she should have in her fellow parliamentarians.

I want to remind her that in the 1970s in the United States there was something called Watergate. Because of its constitution, it had to go through a lot of legalistic manoeuvres to get rid of President Nixon who finally resigned.

She and I are old enough to remember that if Watergate had happened in Canada, Richard Nixon would have been gone in a matter of weeks because it would have been left to the politicians of the day. I think our system works quite well.

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April 27th, 2004 / 12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, Watergate was a scandal but I do not think that has anything to do with our fixed election dates here in Canada.

As far as I am concerned, I have no worries whatsoever. If I were running again for a four year term I would put my name up and take my chances. Members do that in every election, whether it is three years when an election is called or whether it is four years. What we are saying is that we need stability here. We need to work together and we need to find a way in which we can operate.

We do not have to do this just for the sake of the Prime Minister when he feels he is up in the polls. When he is down in the polls he does not want to have an election, and everybody knows that. Everybody on the government side knows that is exactly what is happening.

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12:50 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, today we have a motion before us, the substance of which is that we should have elections in Canada on a fixed date.

I would like to address this question in two ways, the first a matter of substance and the second purely political.

Regarding the first, and of course these arguments can be developed further as the day goes on, I would like point out a few elements that strike me as producing a direct contradiction between this motion and our British parliamentary system. Why do I see the two as not readily reconcilable, if not totally irreconcilable? I will give a few examples.

As hon. members are aware, in Canada the Prime Minister is the person who has been elected leader of a political party and he or she becomes Prime Minister when that party obtains the most seats in Parliament. As a result, in the course of a mandate party leaders can change, and this is a regular occurrence. Once new party leaders become Prime Minister, they may well feel inclined to seek the approval of the population, obtain general support for the decision taken by their party.

With set election dates, a leader could not take advantage of this mechanism of seeking the support of the public. In other words, by taking away a new PM's opportunity to seek public support, we would be preventing the public from expressing its opinion of the new Prime Minister. In other words, proposing elections on a set date is not a reform that enhances democracy, but rather one that diminishes it.

We have, of course, seen recent examples of party leaders who have sought that endorsement and not found it.

If, for example, the government is facing some extremely important and fundamental problem, a really important issue such as a war or threat of war, and the decision is made to seek a mandate from the population in order to steer the country in the right direction, this is impossible if there is no possibility of calling an election.

Taking away this power, and having elections on a set date, is in fact taking away an important instrument from the government as far as public consultation is concerned. Is this more democratic, or less so? In my opinion, it is the latter.

There are of course other negative impacts. I think one of my colleagues alluded to them. We saw that, here, the issue of confidence in the government is not dealt with in the same fashion as it is in the United States, for example. The result is that a crisis in that country took a very long time to be settled, whereas here, because the government must have the confidence of Parliament, it would be settled much more quickly.

In other words, what is at stake here is the principle of accountability. This principle cannot be strengthened if we are subjected to a date that has nothing to do with the time when we really want to hold the government accountable.

Moreover, a reform of this nature would probably require a constitutional reform. Would it really be a good thing, at this point, to undertake a constitutional reform on an issue that would split us, with one group strongly in favour of an objective date and the other firmly opposed to it? Such a reform could not work alone because, in any case, the Governor General would maintain the power to dissolve Parliament. Confidence and non-confidence votes must be maintained. If we were to vote against the budget, would this mean the fall of the government? If not, then there would be no accountability anymore.

So, we would have to maintain some controls between these fixed dates, with the result that it would basically be impossible to deal with the issue of accountability with fixed election dates.

This is the purely technical issue. There is another issue that seems much more important to me under the circumstances.

I would like to really go to the bottom of things. I would like to know why present such a motion and why present it today.

Why do we have to face such a motion today? It is quite clear that when we tabled our action plan on democratic reform on February 4, we invited all parties to join us in a non-partisan way in the implementation of the reform, which was not aimed at helping the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP, or the Bloc, but which was aimed at making Parliament more responsible before the population. They refused; the authors of the motion we are debating today refused.

In our action plan, we took some points that that party's own backbenchers had written in two reports, but because we were proposing the action plan, politics prevailed in their minds and they refused to adhere to it. Now they are trying to address democratic deficit on a piecemeal basis. How can one have a vision when a party is playing politics with one piece of a very complex puzzle, and is not even able to assess the consequences of changing one piece on the entire democratic system we are living in? It is totally irresponsible.

We tabled the action plan on democratic reform with the following things in mind. We said that if a member of Parliament is not responsible before his or her population, then something is wrong somewhere. Of course others are saying that if we do not change the way by which people are sent here, maybe that is wrong also.

What we said is simply the following. A number of studies were conducted by many members of Parliament and all kinds of legislators and all parties which paved the way to the need for parliamentary reform. We have started to implement that reform. The other parties have always refused to come onside with us on this issue.

One example is three line voting. We said if a member could stand and vote in the House, not because he or she is whipped but because he or she decided to vote, when that member went back to the riding he or she would be in a position to answer the population as to the reasons that decision was made and, therefore, would be more accountable to the people. They have refused to do that.

Of all the votes that took place in the House since we reconvened, 63%, almost two-thirds, took place on the basis of a free vote for the Liberals. The Liberals have never endorsed hypocrisy, never. Now the Conservatives want to talk about democratic reform. Let me go further and give a series of examples.

Following a decision by the Supreme Court which had to do with the definition of political parties, I personally sent a request to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I asked specifically for this committee to study this decision for a maximum of one year, and to come back to me with a proposal for legislation, that is, a draft bill. I asked parliamentarians to draft a draft bill for one of the fundamental elements of our democracy, the definition of a political party. They have the opportunity to deal with the issue of voting at a fixed date, and so on, during this study, but they do not want to do that. It is too honest a process.

Asking the parliamentary committee to produce a draft bill that would be coherent and in which each person could take some responsibility does not work. What they prefer is to play politics by taking a little piece of a big jigsaw puzzle and pretending they are in favour of a reform they do not even support.

One topic in the action plan is ethics. We have passed a bill on ethics. I shall let you consider their previous position in this matter, in particular the Conservatives who are behind today's motion.

Yesterday, in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, there was a debate on a code of conduct. They finally agreed to support the adoption of the code of conduct, but they spoke out against it. By what right can they rise to tell us that they are interested in democratic reform and the integrity of this Parliament? They are talking out of both sides of their mouths, hoping that everyone will be confused. I do not know if anyone is confused, in any case we are not and neither is the Canadian public.

In the action plan, we have proposed the creation of a national security committee. In doing so, one must think of the most intelligent way it can be done. I invited them to participate. I should say that the Bloc Quebecois has already submitted the name of someone to sit on this committee, and I thank the Bloc.

As for them, I am still here waiting for their recommendation. They are just pretending. The Conservatives are pretending.

As for appointments, the House knows as well as I do that many parliamentary reports have pointed out the need for parliamentarians to intervene and state their opinions when there are important appointments, for example, a president of a crown corporation or important positions that really affect the public life of the country.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was asked what the best process would be in order to avoid defamation of the candidates' character, attacks on their integrity, and disclosure of their identity, while at the same time ensuring parliamentarians a role in these appointments. This is important. Parliamentarians are elected to represent the public. They have the right to intervene in the appointment process that concerns the public. I am still waiting for an answer, but they have never endorsed this process.

If I still have time I would like to talk about the ethics commissioner. We used to have an ethics counsellor who reported to the Prime Minister. We passed Bill C-4, which provides for the appointment of an independent ethics commissioner. What does that mean?

It means that the ethics commissioner no longer reports to a Prime Minister or a government, but reports to the House and all parliamentarians at the same time. He is accountable to all parliamentarians at once. Not only that, but we took this one step further in the bill. We said that in order for the person filling the important position of ethics commissioner to be recognized and for his integrity to be above reproach, we wish to have his appointment sanctioned by a vote in the House.

This process has begun. The bill was passed. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs considered these requests. Leaders were consulted and soon we will have—on Thursday morning if I remember correctly—a vote on this appointment.

Note that that party abstained. It abstained from the process.

How can we take these people seriously? They introduce a motion on fixed election dates. Either they are completely ignorant of the consequences of making piecemeal changes to the democratic system or they are doing this on purpose for reasons that have nothing to do with the substance of the motion, but that have everything to do with petty politics, which I condemn in the harshest possible terms.

There are many other examples. When we adopted our action plan for democratic reform, we said, so members would not feel tied by a vote in principle on a bill before it goes to committee—in other words, before indepth consideration—that it was preferable to send bills to committees before second reading. For laypersons, second reading consists of debating a bill, voting on the bill's principle and then sending it to committee. In other words, it goes to committee for indepth consideration only after it is debated in the House.

We said that this was not consistent because that means that people vote first on the principle before they know if they even agree with the principle.

As a result of the change we introduced in our action plan, an increasing number of bills are sent to committee before second reading. In short, we are asking parliamentarians from all parties on these standing committees to consider a bill and make recommendations before we vote on the principle, in order to give them all the flexibility they need to make the necessary amendments.

We told ministers and parliamentary secretaries that more work would have to be done. We cannot take it for granted that everything will be adopted because a whip says so. It will be essential to work with parliamentarians to convince them and build consensus, so that the bills are the best they can be. Bills serve neither a government nor one political party over another, they serve the public. So, the better they are, the better the public is served.

I have asked for their approval on this issue, and I am still waiting.

They are absolutely not serious. They are focussed merely on narrow petty politics. What I deplore, and what they seem not to realize, is that by taking this approach they are discrediting all politicians. This is a serious matter.

For political, partisan, and extremely short-sighted reasons, they are challenging a fundamental system of democracy that has proven itself everywhere. No system is perfect, there is no such thing. There is no perfect government, no perfect opposition, there is no such thing. But at least, with good faith and good intentions, I feel we can always manage to do better. Doing better requires some higher mindedness and perspective on the consequences of one's actions.

I feel this motion is totally irresponsible. Not that having a set date for elections is a good thing or a bad thing, but rather that this cannot be decided in isolation from all the rest of the democratic pyramid of our system. Moving such a thing today is not, therefore, motivated by any concern to enhance democracy, but rather by a lowly desire to win votes. This is deplorable and I will vote against the motion this evening.

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1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend used the word “today.” Today, the federal debt is higher than in 1993 when the Prime Minister was finance minister. Today, the democratic deficit is higher than in 1993.

Six months ago, the Prime Minister promised free votes for his MPs. Nevertheless, 48 hours after the Speech from the Throne, he broke his promise. Six months ago, the Prime Minister promised to give all members an opportunity to meet the nominees for positions such as Supreme Court justice. Several days after the throne speech, he broke his promise.

Today in the Senate, there is a vacant seat for Alberta. The Prime Minister refuses to recognize the choice of the people of Canada. Today, the Prime Minister refuses to give his support for fixed dates.

Most countries in the world and the UN accept the idea of fixed election dates, as do communist states and dictatorships. Why does the Prime Minister refuse to accept the idea of fixed election dates? Is it because he is a bigger dictator than the ones who rule in dictatorships?

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe what I am hearing. This is the party that had put us in debt, to the tune of $42 billion annually, when we took office in 1993. We are the ones who corrected the situation. This is the party that put us in debt. By contrast, we have produced seven surplus budgets in a row. These people are not in a position to give advice on government management.

The issue of free votes was raised. Let me point out that, so far, two thirds of the votes were held as free votes for our party. How many such votes did they have? Zero, and they are the ones talking about free votes.

As regards the Senate, the Prime Minister has said—and I am serious about this—that the Senate is an issue that concerns some provinces, particularly Alberta. It has an important symbolic value. The Prime Minister made a statement in which he invited the provinces to arrive at an agreement and to get back to him regarding this issue.

I have one last point. As regards fixed election dates, the Lortie commission, which—I should point out—was not a Liberal commission, wrote a report in 1992 in which it said that having fixed elections dates in Canada was not desirable.

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I do not know if hon. members agree, but I think we are getting off the topic. Therefore, I would ask hon. members to get back to the relevant issue.

The hon. member for Fraser Valley.

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the government House leader spoke for approximately 20 minutes, but he did not say much on the motion today. He mostly went off on grand rhetoric. Even the parts that he addressed in today's motion are incorrect.

It does not take a constitutional amendment or change to have a fixed election date. Ask the Premier of British Columbia. The day after the last election in British Columbia, he said that the next election would be four years from that date. That is no secret.

What do they do in Australia or New Zealand? Those countries have the same system of accountable, responsible government as we have. They have a fixed election date. There is no crisis. There is no problem. The government only has to stand up and agree to do it. It is the same as free votes. It is not a constitutional amendment. It is something the Prime Minister could do with the consent of the House. It is easily done. In fact, once he declares a fixed election date four years hence, nothing will change it. It would be political suicide to change it. It becomes de facto four years after the fact.

I remind the House leader that he says that we cannot change this because this is a piecemeal approach to changing the democratic deficit. I have heard both sides of the argument right from the chair in which he is sitting. Sometimes the Liberals say that we cannot change it piecemeal because we have to do it holistically. Then the next time they say that we cannot do it all at once, that it is too big a job and that we should do it piecemeal.

The ethics commissioner is one piece of legislation. This is one idea. It is a good idea. It should be supported on the basis of the one idea. It is not enough just to say that everything is wrong with it and that we have to do it all together.

I will remind him of this in closing. He talked about free votes. Last week we had free votes, again, on this side of the House on the Westbank Indian land claim, on the Armenian-Turkish issue that--

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find what was just said to be incredibly inconsistent. I will explain why.

When we talk about appointing an ethics commissioner we are talking about something fundamental to democratic reform. We are talking about something fundamental with respect to the relevance of the House of Commons, something quite significant. Ethics is rooted in the fact that the public must have confidence in elected members from all parties. This is not insignificant. That is one factor.

The other factor involves the electoral process and parliamentary reform. I am sorry, but no matter how you slice it, a fixed election date is only a small part of a much bigger picture based on the very principle of the Westminster constitutions, which are aimed specifically at accountability.

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1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

I am trying to answer the question, or pseudo-question I was asked, but they are not listening to my response. I suppose that is what they call respect for parliamentary life.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have two comments that I think Canadians deserve to hear.

First, when listening to the members opposite, they are saying that we have less democracy when we have fixed elections. I heard that over and over this morning. Second, a fixed election demands constitutional change.

Those two points are dead wrong. Canadians from coast to coast know their government is dead wrong. Could the minister explain why many countries have fixed election dates and because of that they have no democracy?

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I explained this earlier, but I will happily explain it again. I think that my message was not understood, and I will not attach any meaning to this.

When a new prime minister takes office, for example at the wish of members of a party with a majority in the House, the arrival of that new prime minister is therefore motivated by a decision made by a political party and not by the public. So, sometimes that prime minister decides to ask the people for the mandate to govern. Preventing him from making that decision means preventing the public from being consulted about the new responsibility he has just been given. A system that does not allow this is, in my opinion, less democratic than one that does allow it.

As for the second point, I gave other examples, including a serious crisis. Can the public not be consulted on this? If we cannot consult the public because it is not election time, we are being denied the right to consult the public. If there are fewer public consultations, things may perhaps be less democratic.

I also mentioned a final element that was extremely simple. From the moment we want to maintain the confidence of the House—I can use the budget as an example—if the majority of members in the House vote against the budget, it becomes a vote of non-confidence and the government is defeated. The Governor General dissolves the House, and an election is automatically called.

This can no longer be possible if election dates are fixed; or else, there is a fixed election date, plus an election call when a new prime minister wants to consult the public or when there is a vote of non-confidence. There is no more fixed date, so that is a myth.

I maintain that our current system gives many more tools with which to consult the public and that, in my opinion, is the best way to preserve democracy.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the member for Calgary East.

Following that presentation from the government House leader, I fear for the future of this Parliament. Maybe we better have a quick election. His understanding of this issue is incredibly weak. If he is truly giving us the best of his knowledge, then ignorance is bliss and he must be one of the happiest guys in the House of Commons.

What he has come up with as an excuse list is preposterous. It is like he has never read the private member's bill brought forward by the leader of our party. It explicitly states that an election should be held four years after the last one unless a motion of non-confidence passes in the House at which time the Governor General would dissolve the House and call an election. It is constitutional. It is in that private member's bill. It is consistent with what is done in other countries that have the same Westminster style of government. The government House leader either has not read the bill, or does not understand it, which is probable, or he just does not want to discuss it seriously. All three of the above may be true.

I hardly know where to start because I am still upset by all the nonsense spewed during that tirade.

The government House leader mentioned some nonsense about the ethics commissioner. I was at the meeting yesterday with regard to the ethics commissioner. I asked the ethics counsellor if he thought the legislation was good. I asked him what he would be administering since no actual code of ethics had been passed. It is not attached to the bill. It has never been passed by the House. He said that was a real problem. He will not have any ethical code in front of him and will sit in his office waiting for the phone to ring. That is preposterous. I have to get off this subject because it is so much nonsense. I can hardly stand it.

Let me talk to the motion before us today and why I believe it is a good idea.

Having a fixed election date would allow the government to govern properly for four full years. This will be my fourth election coming up. Every time an election is called, it is at a time when the government thinks it is most fortuitous. The writ is dropped and off we go. This is done a little over three years into the cycle.

A four year cycle would allow people to plan their lives. It would allow provinces, ministers, governments and prime ministers to put together a legislative package and metre it out for the course of their four years. It would allow them to get something done.

What have we done here in the last six months, since the current Prime Minister has taken over? We have spun our wheels. Where is the new legislation? There is none because the Prime Minister is not sure when he will call the election.

The Prime Minister said a while ago that the Liberal's number one priority was to govern. That is what the House leader has said. The government has to govern unless it has to go to the people for a mandate, or unless the polls look bad, or unless the crystal ball does not look right. None of that is a legitimate excuse for calling an election. An election should be called every four years. That would allow the government to govern for four full years. There would be no ifs, ands or buts.

There should be a democratic reform package in front of the House right now. The House leader talked about that. That should be decided before next October when the election should be held. We could have it all done.

I am on the committee that is reviewing the Prime Minister's democratic package, and nobody is doing a darn thing on it. Everybody on that committee has said that we could start this, but what the heck, an election will probably be called--

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1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Maybe.