Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks in the debate today regarding Standing Orders by congratulating the Leader of the Opposition, who at the beginning of this Parliament negotiated a number of rule changes with which the House is now experimenting.
The first rule change altered the appointment and selection process of the Deputy Speaker and the other two chair occupants, and obviously that was of interest to you, Mr. Speaker, because you are one of them. Instead of the Prime Minister appointing the Deputy Speaker and the other two chair occupants, the Speaker now selects candidates and presents them to the House for ratification.
To improve debate, it was proposed that all speeches be followed by a period of questions and comments. Often members did not have an opportunity to question the most important speakers leading off debate on legislation. We also made all opposition motions votable.
Since the 1950s, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts was chaired by an opposition member. We now have opposition chairs for the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. We opened up vice-chair positions to other parties other than the official opposition and government.
We changed the way concurrence motions would be considered. We had this peculiar situation that caused a motion to concur in a committee report to become a government order. Committees could hardly be considered independent if the government controlled whether there would be a vote on a concurrence motion. We just heard a bit of debate about this change.
One of the frustrations when the House is not in session and when an issue arises where a government response is required, is that there is no parliamentary forum available to debate the issues and government accountability is left exclusively to press conferences and media scrums.
Standing Order 106 was amended to provide that within five days of the receipt by the clerk of a standing committee of a request signed by any four members of that said committee, the chair of the said committee shall convene such a meeting. That way, during a recess a committee could be convened and the minister could be invited to brief members and be held accountable.
The opposition, and in particular the member for Yorkton--Melville, were instrumental in reforming private members' business. We now have all private members' items votable, and that all members be given a chance to have at least one item considered by Parliament between elections has been essentially realized.
The one flaw is the ability of the majority on the procedure and House affairs committee to deem an item non-votable. These members were supposed to be guided by certain criteria that were designed to help them make a non-partisan decision. However, when Bill C-268, an act to confirm the definition of marriage and to preserve ceremonial rights, was deemed non-votable, it demonstrated that we could not expect this committee to make an impartial decision when faced with a difficult issue.
The committee majority decided, on the grounds that the bill was unconstitutional, that it ought not to be deemed votable. The real reason, I contend, was that the government wanted to avoid the embarrassment of voting on something controversial. Bill C-268 has been the only bill thus far in this Parliament to have been designated non-votable. I would recommend taking away the decision of the procedural appropriateness of private members' items from this committee and give it to the Speaker or to the House itself.
Secret ballot elections at committee were brought about by a motion from the former opposition House leader, the member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast--Sea to Sky Country.
I have outlined the record of the Conservative Party on parliamentary reform in this Parliament in particular. I would like to now turn to the Prime Minister's record on parliamentary reform.
The 1993 red book, written by the Prime Minister, contains commitments to parliamentary reform and more openness to members of Parliament. After nearly a dozen years of Liberal government, we know what those promises are worth. I would suggest to the members of the procedure and House affairs committee, who will no doubt be taking note of the debate today, to consider the Prime Minister's record on parliamentary reform. I would recommend that they draft amendments to the rules that take the opposite position. In other words, if the Prime Minister is against something, then it must be a good idea.
For example, as finance minister, the Prime Minister set up many of the foundations that are outside the purview of Parliament's oversight and control. Therefore, I contend we should establish measures that bring them into the purview of Parliament's oversight and control.
On June 13, 2000, the Prime Minister voted against Bill C-214, an act to provide for the participation of the House of Commons when treaties were concluded. Therefore, the participation of the House of Commons when treaties are concluded must be a good idea.
On making crown corporations subject to the Access to Information Act, the Prime Minister voted against Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act for crown corporations. Therefore, Bill C-216 must be necessary and should be implemented.
I think the House gets the idea.
I would argue that the concentration of power in the Office of the Prime Minister, which is at the root of much of our democratic deficit, has grown not lessened under this Prime Minister's watch.
The multitudes of government powers that ultimately rest with the Prime Minister are staggering. The exclusive monopoly over the central powers of government have even led the current Prime Minister himself, in his address to law students at Osgoode Hall in the fall of 2002, to state that the essence of power in Ottawa was “who you know in the PMO”.
This leads me to the recent appointment of the Prime Minister's friend Glen Murray to chair the round table on the environment and economy. Despite a rejection from the environment committee and the House, Glen Murray continues in office. The opinion of the House is of no consequence. It is “who you know in the PMO”.
His recent choices to fill the vacancies in the Senate were a slap in the face to the people of Alberta who elected their senators. The opinion of the people of Alberta is obviously not important to the Liberal Party. Again, it was “who you know in the PMO”.
“Who you know in the PMO” has to go.
At our convention in March of this year we adopted a number of policy items regarding parliamentary reform.
In the area of fiscal management, a Conservative government would strengthen the internal audit and comptrollership functions of government, ensuring that programs delivery would match the intent of the program, spending would be measured against objectives and cost overruns would be brought immediately to the attention of Parliament. Would that not have been a good idea with the sponsorship program?
We would create the independent office of the Comptroller General who would report to Parliament with a mandate to ensure that the highest possible standards and practices of expenditure management would be enforced in all federal departments, crown corporations, agencies and foundations.
A Conservative government would restore the audit role of the Treasury Board. We would allow the Auditor General to table reports with the Clerk of the House of Commons when Parliament was not sitting and have them made public through the Speaker.
A Conservative government would ensure transparency and accuracy of and confidence in the government's finances by providing the Auditor General with full access to all documents from all federal organizations.
A Conservative government would ensure that senior officers such as the Auditor General, Chief Electoral Officer, Comptroller General, Ethics Commissioner, Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner would be appointed by Parliament and report to it.
We would restore democratic accountability in the House of Commons by allowing free votes. All votes would be free except for the budget and main estimates.
We would ensure that nominees to the Supreme Court of Canada would be ratified by a free vote in Parliament, after receiving the approval of the justice committee.
A Conservative government would support the election of senators. The Conservative Party believes in an equal Senate to address the uneven distribution of Canada's population and provide a balance to safeguard regional interests.
Where the people of a province or territory by democratic election chose persons qualified to be appointed to the Senate, a Conservative government would fill any vacancy in the Senate for that province or territory from among those elected persons.
We would consider changes to the electoral system.
We would establish a judicial review committee of Parliament to prepare an appropriate response to those court decisions, which Parliament believed should be addressed through legislation.
A Conservative government would seek the agreement of the provinces to amend the Constitution to include property rights as well as guarantee that no person should be deprived of their just right without the due process of law and full just and timely compensation.
We are committed to the federal principle and to the notion of strong provinces within a strong Canada.
A Conservative government would ensure that the use of the federal spending power in provincial jurisdictions would be limited, authorizing the provinces to use the opting out formula with full compensation if they wanted to opt out of a new or modified federal program in areas of shared or exclusive jurisdiction.
I am proud of the accomplishments of the Conservative Party of Canada in the area of parliamentary reform. We believe that the people of Canada and their Parliament matter when it comes to policy decisions. It is time we turned the page and recover from the embarrassment of this corrupt Liberal government.
However, to end on a positive note, with all the Liberal sham, Liberal corruption and Liberal broken promises, it is still a beautiful Parliament and an honour to represent the people Prince George--Peace River in it.