That, in the opinion of this House, there being a serious democratic deficit in Canada, particularly in the domination of the executive over the House of Commons by providing to the Prime Minister the sole political prerogative to determine when Parliament should be dissolved for the purposes of a general election;
That, unless the Government loses the confidence of the House, general elections should be held on fixed dates; and
That the Government should bring in measures to establish fixed election dates to be held on the third Monday of the month that is four years after the month in which the polling day for the most recently held general election fell.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with our deputy leader, the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.
I would also like to congratulate you, Madam Speaker. It is the first time I have had an opportunity in a speech to congratulate you on your election to the great post as one of our Speakers in the House of Commons. I know all our citizens of British Columbia are very proud that you serve in that position.
The last time I personally introduced a motion addressing the democratic deficit was a motion to establish secret ballot elections in committees. The House adopted it on November 5, 2002. Its adoption was a hard fought battle.
Before we began secret ballot elections in committees, every chairman and vice-chairman position on standing committees was controlled by the Prime Minister through his whip. This control was possible because the voting method was open. The method of open voting was very intimidating because the Liberal Party whip would attend each meeting to elect the chairman and vice-chairman and used all kinds of methods of coercion to influence the vote.
The methods used were similar to the methods used in the 19th century to influence votes at the ballot box during general elections. In the 19th century, employers threatened to reduce the wages or even fire those who did not vote for the right candidate. Back in the 19th century, it was common for parish priests to threaten their parishioners with the fires of hell in order to influence the outcome of an election.
The tactics used by the Liberal whip during the election of chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees were not that different. Instead of the fires of hell, the whip threatened members with the fires of the Prime Minister's Office.
While we have put out the fires of strong arm methods to include selections in committees during the Chrétien administration, there are many anti-democratic fires still burning in the Prime Minister's Office today. For example, in my Province of British Columbia, the Prime Minister is making a mockery of democracy within his own party by appointing candidates that he has personally selected. How does that square with his complaint about decisions being made based on “Who you know in the PMO”? The Prime Minister has taken the democratic process from his own party members. His own party is accusing him of being anti-democratic and racist.
We saw how the Prime Minister's heavy, anti-democratic hand brought a candidate in Burnaby—Douglas to tears on national television. In fact, I was watching that and thought it was quite interesting. My party is the only party that has a candidate in Burnaby—Douglas who has not cried on national television.
The Liberal Party has become so undemocratic under the current Prime Minister that many other Liberal candidates, Liberal members and Liberal supporters are saying that they do not even recognize their party any more. In his Winnipeg speech in March, the Prime Minister boasted about the democratic reforms that have been taken by his government. He said:
Upon taking office, December 12th last, we wasted no time in fulfilling that promise. Members of Parliament now matter in a way they haven’t mattered for decades. Free votes in the House of Commons are now a matter of course.
What free votes? The Prime Minister would not let his members vote freely on funding the gun registry. His staff swarms the public accounts committee, influencing every word. At one meeting, despite the initial wishes of the committee to report the conduct of a Liberal member of the House for leaking information from an in camera meeting, the committee made an about face and voted not to proceed with the matter.
This decision came days after Liberal members were making charges of contempt in the House for the publication of leaked information from the Ontario caucus. When it is embarrassing for the government, the Prime Minister orders his members to cry contempt, but when it suits the Prime Minister's election planning, he orders the matter swept under the carpet with the rest of his democratic dust bunnies.
It could be said that the anti-democratic actions of the Prime Minister are worse than his predecessor, and that is saying something. Jean Chrétien waited a year and a half before he moved his first closure motion as Prime Minister and managed to last five months before he rammed his first piece of legislation through the House using time allocation. The current Prime Minister waited six days to use closure and followed up with time allocation just about immediately in the Senate.
On February 8, 2001, the opposition leader moved a motion that would have the House adopt a policy from the Liberal red book, one that called for a truly independent ethics counsellor. The Prime Minister voted against it. He rejected his own policy. That was a parliamentary reform action promise. He is back to his old tricks, making election promises with no intention of following them through.
In the Edmonton Journal on April 6, 2004, the Prime Minister's senior Alberta minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, said:
My own view is that it's unsustainable to have an unelected upper house of whatever kind at the beginning of this century. I would like to think that the government of Canada might take the initiative to come up with a bold Senate reform proposal and then put that in play, offer it to the premiers.
It was a popular thing for her to say in Alberta; however, her statements directly contradict those of her own boss, the Prime Minister. The Calgary Herald reported the Prime Minister saying on May 2:
I don't think the timing is right for a huge constitutional discussion. I just don't think that piecemeal reform is the way to go.
That was a little different from what he said during his campaign for leadership.
During the battle to establish secret ballot elections in committees and also the battle to reform private members' business, the Chrétien government used the exact same excuse with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and during debates in the House of Commons. This is a standard Liberal excuse to do nothing.
While the government argues that piecemeal reform is not the way to go, it introduced a stand-alone reform. The first reform that was brought in after the last election was to restrict the ability of members to move amendments at report stage, a decision that still hampers members today by impeding their ability to represent their constituents.
The reform that we are introducing today is one of many that we have introduced in the past. For a party in opposition, we have more success with the adoption of parliamentary reform than the government itself.
I mentioned earlier, secret ballot elections in committee. The new rule that addresses late answers from the government to Order Paper questions was taken from a reform package drafted by the official opposition. It has significantly reduced late answers from the government. The government adopted one out of three time allocation proposals from that same package.
The House has established a half hour question and answer period following the moving of the closure or time allocation motion. Questions are directed toward the minister who is sponsoring the bill under debate, or in exceptional circumstances, an acting minister.
The office of the Clerk of the House of Commons is central to the functioning of the chamber. Before the House adopted its new procedure, the government, through an order in council, made the appointment of the Clerk. While the recent incumbents have been exceptionally qualified individuals and above reproach, the principle that the House of Commons be involved in the appointment process was important because the Clerk serves the entire House of Commons and all its members, and must have the confidence of this House. This can now be demonstrated by a vote in the House regarding his or her appointment.
The House created an estimates committee to monitor and review the estimates and supply process on an ongoing basis. This was an idea that was developed by a study that was initiated by the opposition. While the creation of the estimates committee made up only a small part of the recommendations from that study, it was a small step in the right direction.
The fact that more committees are televised is a direct result of initiatives and pressure from the official opposition. The idea of a committee review for the appointments of officers of Parliament came about because of pressure put on the government by the member for Langley--Abbotsford when he was the House leader of the official opposition.
The reforms to private members' business making all items votable came about because of the member for Yorkton--Melville. He had two supply motions on the subject and finally, after 10 years, the measures were adopted, although only on an interim basis.
One minor reform that I am particularly relieved is in place today is the change that prevents the government from amending opposition motions. I say this because of the current mood of the Prime Minister, demonstrated by his meddling in certain ridings and his treatment of Liberal members non grata. I would not want my motion subjected to an amendment from the Prime Minister by deleting certain words and changing the outcome of my motion from the establishment of fixed election dates to the establishment of fixed elections.
The former Prime Minister was criticized for not respecting the wishes of the House. The wishes of the House with respect to the definition of marriage and the terms under which the Kyoto protocol would be signed were a few examples--