moved that Bill C-251, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (members who cross the floor), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this bill has been six years in the making. There have been two elections and now we finally get to debate a little responsibility among ourselves toward our constituents.
Bill C-251 has resonance for all Canadians across the country. It basically states that members of Parliament have to act in a more responsible and accountable manner to the constituents who send us here. We do not own these seats. We only use them on behalf of our constituents. It is an honour and a privilege and in many cases the ultimate dream for people to be a member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons.
Bill C-251 originated in 1999 when a colleague in the Progressive Conservative Party decided to become a Liberal member. Prior to that, the individual had been a fantastic fisheries critic for the Progressive Conservative Party. I could not help but notice in our committee at that time that that individual was speaking rather strongly against the Liberal government's attitude toward fishermen and their families. In the following days, while the words of that speech were still echoing, the member was standing in room 130-S with Mr. George Baker, now Senator Baker, announcing to the world that he had become a Liberal.
How do constituents react when their member, who had been elected as a Progressive Conservative, decides to become a Liberal without their consultation, advice or vote? That is only one example. Liberals have moved over to the Conservatives. Bloc members have gone to the Liberals, and Conservatives have become Bloc members. Even New Democrats, heaven forbid, have gone over to the dark side, but many people have come to us as well. The fact is that the House is not a game of musical chairs. We do not just run around until the music stops.
I remind everybody that we were elected to the Canadian House of Commons. It is not the no tell motel where we check in under an assumed name. That is not the attitude. The reality is we are responsible to our constituents. It is our constituents who determine what we do, what is best for us.
When a person seeks the nomination of a political party, that person gets the banner of that party, puts up lawn signs and tells everyone, “I am going to run under this political party banner. Please vote for me. The other parties will not stand up for you. The other parties are not for you. Only the people in this party can meet your needs and stand up for you with a strong voice in Ottawa”. If that person gets elected, he or she comes to Ottawa, becomes part of a political party caucus and part of the process.
Then all of a sudden the member may decide, and in most cases it is for opportune reasons, that the party he or she was elected under is no longer suitable to his or her particular desires. There may be many reasons. The member may decide to crack open that door just a little, or somebody else may open that door, and there are enticements, offers, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, nice little lunches and dinners and all of a sudden that person moves to the opposition side or the government side. That is not what we came here for. We came here to be responsible and accountable to our constituents.
Bill C-251 is very clear. If a member of an elected party sits in the House of Commons and for whatever reason decides to no longer sit with a certain political party, that member should sit as an independent member until the next election. The member could make his or her intentions known, but he or she would sit in the House as an independent member.
If the person's desire is to move to another political party, then it is quite simple. The member should go back to his or her constituents and resign. Of course, a member could do whatever he or she would like to do, once the member resigned.
The premise would be to seek the nomination of that political party, then go back to the constituents and ask them for their permission and their votes in a byelection if need be. He or she could then say, “I feel I can now represent you under this banner”. Let the constituents decide the person's political future. We in the House of Commons should not decide our own futures. That is up to the constituents. They are the taxpayers. They are the ones who put us here. They have the ultimate say in what we do.
The bill would also allow a leader of a party to deal with an individual member of a caucus who, for example, was being a bit of a rabble-rouser or detrimental to the caucus. The lead could make that person sit as an independent member and that person would stay as an independent until whenever.
A gentleman from Vancouver Island, and I forget the name of his riding, left the Conservative Party and sat as an independent. He said, “In the next election I plan to run for the Liberal Party”. That is exactly what should be done. Members who leave their parties should sit in the House as independents. They can make their intentions known, but they should sit as independents.
Sitting as an independent in this House sometimes is not the greatest thing. There is no caucus. There are no critic areas. There is no question time. Independents are on their own and they are pretty silent voices for a long time. In a minority situation, however, independent members tend to have a little more power, but in a majority they are on their own. It is not the best representation for constituents in some cases.
The Conservatives also have a bill, and I give them credit for trying, but unlike others, their bill basically says everything my bill says, except that once a member leaves his or her party, the member sits as an independent and is forced to have a byelection in 30 days. The Conservatives have been the Alliance, the Reform, the Progressive Conservatives and the Democratic Caucus. They have had a variety of name changes over time. In some cases I think their caucus is slowly getting together but the reality is, why would they give their leader that much power? Their leader could say to one of their members, “If you do not do what I have told you to do, you will be made to sit as an independent,” and the member would have to go to the polls within 30 days. That gives the leader of any party far too much power. I like my leader an awful lot and he is doing a great job for Canada, but I would not want him or anyone else to have that kind of power over individual MPs.
There always will be certain crises within government, in opposition and in other parties when, for whatever reason, a member cannot abide by the principles and policies of the party. For example, the member for London—Fanshawe recently left the Liberal Party to sit as an independent because he could not accept the viewpoint of his government on a particular bill. He is sitting as an independent. That is fine.
With respect to another member who sits right next to me, the Prime Minister said, “This member is causing a bit of a rift within the caucus. We are going to make her sit as an independent”. That is fine, but members should not lose their employment because of that. The reality is that we are elected for four separate reasons: to toss out the current representative or government; people also vote for the individual; they vote for the leader of a party; or they vote for the party. If one sits as a member of Parliament with a registered political party, he or she should not have the right to switch over to another party during that term, but should go back to the constituents and ask them for their permission.
It boils down to democracy. There is the recent issue with David Dingwall. People look at David Dingwall as just another example of government corruption, of all politicians. The thing with Mr. Dingwall is that it coats all politicians in the same way. People do not differentiate between government and MPs of other parties. They look at us all the same, that we are crooks, that we are opportunists, that we are only in it for ourselves.
The fact is that this piece of legislation of mine will put just a bit of responsibility back on us so that the constituents can pull in the reins on us a bit. We should not be free wheeling. We have a responsibility to them. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this country and to the voters.
How in the world are we going to encourage young people to vote if this flip-flopping and turning around, patronage, cronyism, and you name it continues? Forty per cent of Canadians do not vote now. If there were a federal election tomorrow, probably even fewer would vote. That is a travesty of democracy.
We need to encourage Canadians to vote, but prior to us doing that they need to have confidence in their elected representatives. They must be confident that we will do what we say and say what we do. The fact is that we cannot make grandiose promises to people. We cannot tell them that if they vote for us we will do this and that and everything else and then at the bat of an eye join another political party. How can a person do that?
I am very interested in seeing how the member of Parliament from Richmond votes on this particular bill. As we all know, in the 2000 general election, a gentleman from the Alliance Party, Joe Peschisolido, beat the member from Richmond, who was in cabinet at the time. He beat him in a fair and square fight at the polls. The constituents of Richmond, B.C., wanted an Alliance member as their representative. That was fine.
What happened six months later? Without a word of warning to the people of Richmond, Mr. Peschisolido became a Liberal, just like that. The members of the Liberal Association of Richmond, British Columbia, said they did not want him as their representative. They said they wanted the guy they had worked for, the member from Richmond.
Let us imagine how the defeated candidate must have felt. He was defeated in a fair fight at the polls and yet six months later the guy who beat him switched and was wearing the defeated candidate's colours in the House of Commons. How would we feel if that happened to us? I cannot help but think of all the defeated candidates who ran against the people who have since crossed the floor. I wonder how they feel now. Let us think about the associations and the volunteers who worked so hard out of their belief in a political party. How do they feel when an individual, just like that and without any concern for any of them, flip-flops right to the other party?
It has to stop and it has to stop now. I encourage each and every one of my colleagues in the House of Commons to stop looking at their political futures as a selfish end to their means. I urge them to look at their political careers as a way of being of assistance to their constituents. I urge them to look at their political careers as being a responsibility to their constituents. The constituents of the 308 ridings that we represent here in the House have the right to expect us to ask them for their permission to switch parties.
There are classic examples of this having already happened, but if my bill were enacted it would stop the wink-wink, nudge-nudge that goes on in this place. We know about the Conservative member for Newton—North Delta, who allegedly taped conversations in which it was indicated that if he and his wife were given something then he could quite possibly look the other way and help the other party out. Helping out the other party could result in someone getting a title somewhere or a consulate position somewhere. It could involve crossing the floor.
If Bill C-251 were enacted, crossing the floor would not be an option. We have to stop this cronyism. We have to stop this wink-wink, nudge-nudge, silent backroom dealing that benefits people.
A lot of people think this legislation is against the member for Newmarket—Aurora, but that is simply not true, although she did cross the floor. If my bill had been in force at the time she crossed the floor, she would have been required to sit as an independent. She could have done whatever she wanted to do as an independent, but she would not have been able to cross the floor to join the Liberal Party.
I want to remind everyone that I have had this legislation on the books since 1999. She is just part of this. This is not a personal vendetta against anyone. I have great respect for all my colleagues in the House, even when they cross the floor. I can appreciate and understand some of the situations they may be in, but I want to take the option of crossing the floor away from members of Parliament and give the decision back to constituents. It is the constituents who indicate to us what we should be doing.
I will be listening intently to my colleagues in the House of Commons as they speak to my bill, but I will give one piece of advice to every member of Parliament. If members do not think this bill is worth supporting, then I ask members to go back to their constituents and do a poll or a ten-percenter asking them what they think about a member of Parliament who crosses the floor in the middle of a term. I guarantee that almost unanimously their constituents will tell them they are not allowed to do that. I believe their constituents will tell them that they have to seek guidance from constituents in a byelection or a general election before they do that.
This legislation has been six years in the making and we are finally getting an opportunity to debate it. I look forward to the debate. Most important, I look forward to the vote on this legislation to see exactly how my colleagues will behave.