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House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Madam Speaker, I am certainly not opposed to some of the suggestions that the member has put forward, with regard to engaging the population.

When it comes to constitutional issues, as the member will know, the bill actually proposes that the individual sit as an independent. So, it directly relates to the role that political parties play in choices during elections. One could question it, but then again, political parties have a particular place in our Canadian democracy. They do represent a certain number of choices, a certain number of values, and those choices should be respected by politicians of all stripes.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I very much like the private member's bill introduced my colleague. Having had a previous life in another party, I feel very comfortable saying that when I decided—completely voluntarily—to join the NDP, I did so by getting elected as a new member of this party. I did not leave in the middle of a term after earning the trust of my constituents under one banner, and then for some reason, no matter how valid, change my mind and cross the floor.

To pick up where the hon. Liberal member left off, what I like about the bill introduced by my colleague from Pontiac is that it does not take away an individual's right to change parties. It simply says that if someone leaves a party, he or she must be re-elected. I wonder if the member for Pontiac could explain this bill a little more—

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Pontiac has less than a minute to respond.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Gatineau for the question.

We are talking about the case of someone who wants to cross the floor during their term. I think it is responsible and reasonable to leave one's party to sit as an independent, and then ask voters to elect that individual in a given political party. There are many good reasons for crossing the floor. We are not attacking the principle. We are attacking the principle of not asking voters to re-elect such individuals when they change their political party.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, I am here to speak today to Bill C-306, introduced by the member for Pontiac, which addresses changes in the political affiliations of members of Parliament, or more commonly known as floor crossing. The bill would require the resignation of a member of Parliament and a subsequent byelection if the member crosses the floor to sit as a member of a different political party.

While I understand that the goal of this bill would be to ensure that a member's decision to cross the floor is endorsed by a member's constituents, the result of it would be simple. This bill would seriously undermine the independence of members of this House and I do not think that is something we should encourage or support.

This bill would have some practical negative consequences. The bill would impose restrictions upon members who wish to express a different position than the one endorsed by a majority of their caucus. This bill would also impede members of Parliament in representing the interests of their constituents, which is one of the fundamental duties under our Constitution.

I want to briefly go over the details of this bill and then explain in more detail why I believe restrictions on floor crossings would not fit with our Westminster parliamentary system and are inadvisable.

Bill C-306 would require a byelection whenever members join a different registered party than the one that has endorsed them for the previous election or if they were elected as independent candidates during the previous election and subsequently join a political party. However, Bill C-306 would not require a byelection when members leave or are expelled from their caucus to sit as independents, leave their party to form a new party that does not yet have registered party status under the Elections Canada Act or, and I stress, two parties that have registered status under the Elections Canada Act merge. According to the Elections Canada Act, a party obtains registered party status when it endorses at least one candidate for an election, provided it has made the proper application to the Chief Electoral Officer at least 60 days before the issue of writs for that election.

So here are the details. I have some concerns about the technical wording of the bill and not only with its principles. I will speak a bit about the bill's reference to registered parties. Our party system plays a fundamental role in our democracy but, in fact, there are a few statutory provisions regulating the role of political parties in Parliament itself, including the Parliament of Canada Act which Bill C-306 would modify.

In contrast, the roles, rights and obligations of individual members of Parliament are well established in Canada's legislation whereby members of Parliament are central actors in our Westminster system of government. Practically, the caucus system in our Parliament is joined with, but distinct from, the registered party system.

Bill C-306 would go against existing rules and traditions by allowing the party machinery to take precedence over individual rights and responsibilities of each member of Parliament and their caucus choices. This does not correspond to our system of government. As I stated earlier, I believe Bill C-306 would have negative and undesirable consequences on the roles of members of Parliament.

In effect, the bill would require members who fundamentally disagree with their caucus or with the leader of their party to resign their seat or to sit as independents. However, it would blur the line between party membership and caucus membership. Such restrictions would strengthen the control of political parties over individual members by bolstering a party's threat of expulsion in order to maintain party discipline and limit the representative role of members.

Therefore, the bill could discourage elected representatives from expressing their views in caucus debates and encourage party leaders to act without regard to their caucus members' best interests.

We should remember that members of Parliament have three competing but equally important representative roles in Parliament. They are to represent the interests and opinions of their constituents, to present their personal views and judgments, and to support and promote their political parties and party leaders.

By seeking to punish members of Parliament who disagree with their parties so fundamentally that they decide to change their political affiliation, the bill would focus exclusively on the party role of members. This would be detrimental to the individual roles of members, including their duties to act as trustees of the public interest and that of their constituents.

Moreover, the decision to cross the floor cannot be taken lightly. It is an important decision, often with significant consequences.

Of the six members who have crossed the floor since the 2004 election, only one has managed to be re-elected in a subsequent election as an independent candidate. The same premise applies to members of Parliament who have decided to leave or who were expelled from their caucus to sit as independent members. Of the six members who left their caucus to sit as independent members since the 2004 election, only one was re-elected in a subsequent election. What does this mean?

Members are subject to scrutiny by the public, by the media, by parliamentary colleagues, and most importantly, by their voters, their constituents back at home in the next general election. Therefore, I believe this bill is unnecessary as it is that court of opinion by which members are truly judged. To emphasize, general elections themselves are the appropriate mechanism to hold members of Parliament accountable for their actions.

According to the Library of Parliament, there have been approximately 194 floor crossings since Confederation. The floor crossing tradition reflects the importance of preserving the independence and mobility of members of Parliament to vote with their feet when they feel it is in the best interests of their constituents or the country to do so.

None of our provinces require a byelection when a member of their legislative assembly changes political affiliations, although Manitoba requires members who leave their caucus to sit as independent members until the end of their terms. Moreover, crossing the floor exists in other Westminster parliamentary systems. The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand do not currently impose restrictions on floor crossings.

When New Zealand went through a transition period from the first past the post electoral system to a mixed member proportional system, it had passed legislation to prevent floor crossings as a temporary measure in 2001. However, it did not renew these provisions after the 2005 election as they turned out to be ineffective.

This is consistent with the fact that laws banning floor crossing are rare in established democracies, but common in nascent democracies where they are defended as temporary measures designed to consolidate a parliamentary system. We are certainly not in that position here in Canada, nor are our peer countries. I simply cannot see the need for the provisions of this bill.

In conclusion, party affiliation is certainly an important factor when Canadians cast their vote, but they also expect elected representatives to act according to their convictions when they represent local interests at the national level. Ultimately, members are held accountable by their constituents at the next election. Therefore, I encourage all members to opposed Bill C-306

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, my remarks will not take very long. It is late. I would like to tell the hon. member that his bill is based on good intentions. However, there is a principle that we do not create laws unless it is necessary to do so. In this case, I do not feel that it is necessary. I have sat in this House since 1996 and only once did it not seem legitimate to me when a member crossed the floor.

However, we do not enact a new law for one case. Mr. David Emerson, a couple days after the election, crossed the floor to be appointed minister. That was unacceptable as he campaigned against the Conservative Party, but a few days later became a minister. If this were a pattern, of course, I would agree to do something, but it is an exception.

In the other cases that I have seen, the members who changed parties had legitimate reasons for doing so. For example, when Jean Charest gave up the leadership of the Conservative Party to become the leader of the Liberal Party in Quebec, the Conservative Party really changed. Many Quebec members were no longer part of the new party because the leader had changed and their constituents asked them why they did not join the Liberals. So, they came to us. When election time came six months later, they were all re-elected. The voters followed them. Had they been obliged to resign and had they been prevented from doing their work in their ridings for six to eight months, what purpose would that have served? They told me they were hopeful that their voters would follow them when they made that change.

All hon. members who have switched parties more or less justify their decision that way. They feel that they did not change, but their party did and that they were elected for certain commitments that the party has not respected. They were no longer comfortable in their party and they switched. It does not happen very happen, but it does happen from time to time. Every time it happens—and I do not necessarily approve of the change when it is Liberals who leave to join another party—I am not happy about it, but I cannot deny the legitimacy of the decision. As the hon. member was saying earlier, if voters do not follow them, they will not be re-elected. They will be treated as turncoats and they will be defeated. That is how the system works. I do not see the need to change it when we do not have the necessary justification for unduly strengthening the parties with respect to the free choice of the hon. members of this House, who, for personal reasons, might want, quite legitimately, to change their allegiance.

My colleague mentioned other parliaments earlier. The parliamentarian who quite possibly is the most respected in the history of democracy, who not only saved a country, but a civilization, is Winston Churchill. If ever there was a parliamentarian who switched parties often, it was Winston Churchill. Thus, under certain circumstances I think it is legitimate to switch parties. That being said, I am a Liberal and I will always be a Liberal.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I am completely shocked. I thought the Conservatives were a party of democracy, as were the Liberals. I did not know that even though my name is on the seat here it is not my seat. I do not own this seat. It does not belong to me. It does not belong to my party. It belongs to the 91,000 people I represent in Sackville—Eastern Shore.

I was elected as a New Democratic member of Parliament. However, if in an hour I called the leader of the Liberal Party or maybe the Prime Minister and asked if they wanted me, I could be a Conservative member of Parliament or a Liberal member of Parliament in an hour or even less than that.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Not a chance.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

I was not elected as a Conservative, a Liberal or a Green member. I was elected as a New Democratic member of Parliament.

If, for whatever reason, I could no longer sit as a New Democratic member of Parliament, either I was being a real rabble-rouser and the party members said that I was being a major pain in the buttocks and that I could not be here any more, or I could no longer live by the philosophy, I would have several solutions to my problem. I could sit as an independent until the next election and make my choice known or I could quit. The premise then would be to seek the nomination of the new party, fly under its flag and seek election under that banner.

It is the people who decide our fate. There is nothing worse than sitting in the House of Commons listening to a new member of Parliament, for whom I have great respect, read bureaucratic notes that are handed to her. Does she not remember what the Prime Minister said when the former member for Kings—Hants joined the Liberal Party and became a cabinet minister. He said that any person who crosses the floor for a few pieces of silver has more or less sold their soul. He was very angry that it happened.

I remember when the great Belinda Stronach left the Conservatives and went over to the Liberal Party. Not one Conservative said that it was a wonderful thing she did. Not one Conservative sent her flowers and said, “Good for you, Belinda, that was great. You exercised your member of Parliament's duty”. No. What they said was very vile. What they said was extremely rude because she was a woman and she was well-known in this country. However, the comments from the Conservative members of Parliament and the Alberta Conservative members of Parliament were beyond the pale. Besides the tone of those comments, they were justified in their anger because a person left the party to sit as a cabinet minister in another party.

I will use the great David Emerson as an example. The beauty of being here for a while is that we get to remember some of these things. David Emerson was a minister in the Liberal government. There was an election in 2006 and the Conservatives won the election.

In February 2006, the cabinet of the Conservative Party was sworn in, and rightfully so, and the beauty of our democracy is that not a shot was fired. However, an hour before the Conservatives took over the government, the former member for Vancouver Kingsway, who was a Liberal cabinet minister when Paul Martin signed off, was sworn in as a Conservative cabinet minister with a better pension, better pay and a car. That was a Liberal cabinet minister who had said that he would be the Conservatives' worst nightmare, and it turned into a dream for him.

Would David Emerson have crossed the floor if he were to sit in the backbench with no critic area or anything? I do not think so.

The reality is that this is not my seat. It belongs to the people of Canada in my riding.

I cannot thank my hon. colleague for Pontiac enough. For the Liberals to stand up and say that they do not like this, they should get real. If we do not start disciplining ourselves, more and more people will not go to the polls. Canadians are telling us that they do not like the fact that we are entitled to our entitlements. The last thing members of Parliament should do is Dingwall the Canadian people. We should stop that.

If a member wishes, for whatever reason, to join another political party while sitting as an elected member of Parliament of a current party, it is quite simple: the member should sit as an independent until the next election, or quit, seek a byelection and explain to his or her constituents why he or she now needs to have another flag over his or her home. That is constitutional responsibility, and that is being true to democracy and to one's constituents.

The Conservative member spoke with bureaucratic notes without really thinking. There are four reasons that members get elected: first, to throw bums out; second, for their leader; third, for their party; and fourth, for themselves. In most cases, being oneself is the last reason people vote for a person.

The member talked about giving too much party discipline to the leader and the party. I remember a certain Conservative defence minister from Central Nova who said, “We don't kick people out of our party for voting against the budget or voting against the wishes of their constituents”. Guess what? Bill Casey, the former member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, voted against the Conservative budget because of the Atlantic accord and, before that man sat his derrière on the seat, he was out of the party. He was gone.

The Conservatives exercised discipline because they triple whipped the vote. We understand that parties do that time and again, but we cannot have a senior minister, who joined the Conservative Party, say publicly in the House of Commons, “We don't kick people out for voting against us and doing what they wish”, and then, before the member could sit down, kicked him out. That is party discipline. We understand party discipline. It happens. It s is what all members of Parliament need to understand when this happens. If members take chances, they take the consequences.

We have a party system but, and I am talking about the ladies and gentlemen across the way, how many of them would have gotten elected as independents? I ask them to put up their hands right now if they could have been elected as an independent in the House of Commons. I do not see any hands going up. The reality is that it does not happen. It is rare that it happens.

Therefore, we should stop abusing the trust of our constituents. Our constituents are the ones who put us here. We tell our constituents which political banner we are being elected under. For whatever reason, it happens all the time. There are legitimate reasons for members to leave their parties. I will bet that members who are here long enough may think maybe it should. However, the reality is that members have a couple of beverages, forget about it and move on.

The truth is that we should never abuse our constituents. This bill would enact more discipline among ourselves and, more important, it is a private member's bill. We would hope that the Conservatives and the Liberals would enact a free vote on this measure, get it to committee and have Democracy Watch and others from across the country attend. I can honestly say that I have been working on this legislation since 1999 and the overwhelming majority of people I have spoken to, not just New Democrats but a lot of Conservatives, Liberals, the Green Party and former Bloc members are fully supportive of this legislation.

They do not want us treating the House of Commons as the no tell motel, where people check in under an assumed name. This carpet is very expensive. We cannot just keep tramping back and forth when we want to. We need to have respect for the institution, but, most important, we need to have respect for our constituents.

This is what this bill is all about and I am very proud of my hon. colleague from Pontiac for introducing this legislation once again. All the Conservatives and Liberals should send ten percenters or householders into their ridings and ask their constituents about floor crossing. They would be surprised at the answers, because I have already done that and I know the answer. The overwhelming majority of Canadians want us to stop that practice, stop the entitlement of entitlements, behave ourselves, be more responsible and understand that the seats do not belong to us. They belong to the people of Canada.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, this is the time of the year that the seasons change with Halloween, the geese fly south and for 30 days the moustache of the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore disappears before it makes its annual return to our chamber.

I want to take this opportunity to address the bill. I think it is an unwise bill. It is problematic on a technical level and I will explain what that is very briefly. However, even if it worked, which I do not think it would, it would do something that is not in the public interest, and that is to establish greater control for the party leadership in each of the parties, not just the governing party but all the parties, over the individual member, something which, frankly, there is too much right now. In fact, that was a fair part of the substance of the member's speech.

I will read one of the four sections by which it would amend the Parliament of Canada Act. The bill states:

Any person holding a seat in the House of Commons who becomes a member of a registered party as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Canada Elections Act is deemed to have vacated the seat and ceases to be a member of the House if, in the last election, the person was endorsed by another registered party or was not endorsed by a registered party.

In other words the member is an independent. It is trying to say that if I were elected as a Conservative in my riding and I crossed the floor to the New Democrats, I would cease to be a member and there would be a byelection. It does not actually achieve that goal because I could just as well sit with the New Democrats as a member of the caucus without being an actual card carrying member of the New Democratic Party. It may very well be that the New Democrats would not accept me, but I am assume if they were willing to accept me on those terms, this whole process would be obviated. There have been many examples, both of opposition parties and of governments which have functioned with members of multiple parties.

The actual goal of the bill will not be achieved even if it is passed. Quite frankly, that is a good thing because the bill is a bad bill. It is a bad idea and it was a bad idea when it was proposed by a New Democratic member a couple of Parliaments ago. I spoke to it then. It was a bad idea when it was proposed by a Conservative member a few Parliaments ago, when I spoke against it and voted against it as well.

It is not because these are bad members or members who are lacking in goodwill, but because anything that establishes further control for the reasons that my hon. colleague from Calgary spelled out in her speech and anything that creates greater control for the party leadership over the individual MPs is a bad thing.

I am not alone in thinking this. As my colleague from Calgary mentioned, there have been 194 floor crossings at the federal level and many more at the provincial level since the time of Confederation. The Library of Parliament apparently did that research, but there have been so many floor crossings that there is actually a Wikipedia article about Canadian floor crossings. I asked one of the researchers to print the pages that dealt with floor crossings since I became a MP in the year 2000.

It is interesting to look at what happened to people who tried crossing the floor. Some of them were defeated in the next election, indicating that their voters did not like what they did. Others were re-elected, some of them many times. I will read some of the names and members will see my point.

In September 2000, just before I first ran and was elected, David Price, Diane St-Jacques and André Harvey all left the Progressive Conservative Party caucus and joined the Liberals. At least two of those were re-elected successfully in the next election.

Rick Laliberte, a New Democrat, left the NDP to join the Liberals at that time as well.

In 2001 there was rebellion against Stockwell Day, the leader of my party at that time. I was a member of the Canadian Alliance and a number of members rebelled against his leadership and sat as the Democratic Representative caucus, a separate group which had not previously existed. Whether that would violate the terms of this act, I do not know, but they sat separately: Art Hanger, Chuck Strahl, Gary Lunn, Jim Pankiw, Val Meredith, Grant McNally, Jay Hill, Jim Gouk, Monte Solberg, Andy Burton, Brian Fitzpatrick, Deborah Grey and Inky Mark all did that. Most but not all of them returned to the new Conservative Party caucus once the new Conservative Party had been created.

Others of us did not go through that process, but we did enter that Parliament as Canadian Alliance Canada and left as Conservatives after the creation of the new Conservative Party, or as Progressive Conservatives, and left as Conservatives. Those were all legitimate changes.

Would they fall afoul of this bill? I do not know, but they were legitimate changes. I can say for myself, I was re-elected with a much more substantial margin following that election. Was it because people liked me more? Was it because they liked the new party more? Was it because they liked the new leader more? I am not sure. It was some combination I suppose, but the point is in the end that choice was validated by my voters.

Continuing along down here, in 2002, this was while the Canadian Alliance was still in existence, before the merger of the CA and PC, Joe Peschisolido, a Canadian Alliance MP, left to join the Liberals. He was defeated in a subsequent election.

In 2003, in the course of the merger negotiations between the PCs and the CA, the member for Kings--Hants left the PCs, just as the new Conservative Party was to be created, to sit as a Liberal, ran, and has been successfully re-elected several times.

That was also what Keith Martin did. He was re-elected twice, or maybe three times after that as a Liberal, and chose not to run in the recent election.

About the same time, a year later, John Bryden, a Liberal MP, stepped down. He sat as an independent first, joined the Conservative Party, and then was defeated in the nomination battle for the Conservative Party, so we never got the chance to see what the voters thought of his proposal.

David Kilgour sat for many years as a Liberal. He had been elected as a Progressive Conservative and chose to cross the floor prior to the 1993 election. He was then re-elected, served as a Liberal, and in fact became a cabinet minister for the Liberals. Clearly, the voters were willing to accept what he did.

Belinda Stronach, of course, left the Conservatives after having sought its leadership. She sat as a Liberal and was re-elected as a Liberal, so voters agreed with that.

Wajid Khan tried leaving the Liberals to join the Conservatives in 2007. He was defeated in the subsequent election. Voters were not willing to accept that.

Blair Wilson ran as a Liberal, was essentially pushed out of his party, and then sat as the first Green Party MP. He was then defeated in the next election, so his voters were not willing to accept that.

As we can see, there is a wide range of people who have done this, and there has been a wide range of voter reactions. The general reaction has not been to say, “We absolutely reject what these MPs have done”. Absolutely not. There has, in fact, been a considerable acceptance when the circumstances seemed legitimate.

I want to make a further point about this. There have been some quite well-known people who have made multiple floor crossing changes. Someone earlier mentioned Winston Churchill. Here is what Winston Churchill did. He was elected in 1901 as a Conservative in England. In 1904, he crossed the floor to the Liberals and served in their cabinet. This rankled the Conservatives so much that in 1915, during the first world war, when the Conservatives joined with the Liberal party to form a coalition government, they demanded that he be demoted as a condition of joining a coalition government, in the time of war, so this really bothered them a lot.

However, as it turned out, his voters thought it was okay and he continued to be re-elected and served until 1924 as a Liberal MP. He was then defeated, spent some time, about a year, as a private citizen, then came back in as a Conservative again. He made the observation, because some people did not approve of this sort of thing, by saying, “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat”.

He then went on and served his country, admirably of course, as prime minister. He did save western civilization, so he could not have been all bad. He did so, I should point out, as head of a coalition government. Effectively, he was not a Conservative while he was doing that. He served as prime minister the second time as a Conservative. He served, really, in three different parties. He served as prime minister in two different parties. Clearly, these things are permissible in certain circumstances.

I have a final note, because I know I am just about out of time. My former colleague, Inky Mark, was one of those who was a floor crosser to the Democratic Reform caucus. Here is his history, party wise. He was elected as a Reformer, served as a Canadian Alliance MP when the party changed, then served in the Democratic Reform caucus, then served as a Progressive Conservative, then served in the Conservative Party of Canada. His voters re-elected him over and over again.

Clearly, this is an acceptable practice and I do not think we should make it illegal.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand in support of the Bill C-306 submitted by my colleague from Pontiac. I was here for some of the time that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore gave some examples. I always find it interesting to listen to the comments from the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. Once again, I do not agree. We usually do not agree, but we do enjoy the give and take. As often as I can, I say I have a great deal of respect for the member, but I disagree with him again.

I will deal with the core piece because I will not have a chance to deal with all of it.

At first blush, one aspect citizens think about when they want to choose their member of Parliament, whether it is in the legislature or in the House of Commons, is the candidate. I thought the point was well-taken that an awful lot of us believe we are the only ones who could get here on our own. We do not need anybody or party because they are a big problem more than they are a help. The reality is that most members do not get elected on their own name, recognition and reputation alone.

A lot of people, especially these days, do not have a particular allegiance to a political party. Rather they take it issue by issue, election by election. They will see what the issues are and the ones that affect them the most, determine how they feel about them and that often drives their decision, recognizing that citizens have the right to base their decision on anything they choose. That is one of the beauties of democracy and freedom.

Certainly a lot of people look at what the parties are offering. They might not even know the candidates or they do not care about the party label. Rather they care about one issue, they find the party that is closest to their heart on that issue and that is where they mark their ballots. That is fair enough.

Some folks have great allegiance to a political party. All members of all parties have active members in their riding associations. These are people who, with some exceptions, will likely vote for the candidate no matter who it is. They will vote for the candidate no matter what the platform is because they support the party.

All of that is entirely legitimate and acceptable.

Those people who vote for the candidates probably do not care much as to whether they are independents, or members of the parties they have run for, or have crossed the floor, or have re-rat, which has been brought back from history as former Prime Minister Churchill had said, and I am glad that is in there, or have re-rat over and over again. They really do not care.

However, those people who vote on platform or party are often devastated when the person they voted for crosses the floor. They told their friends to vote for that candidate. They put signs on the their front lawns in support of the candidate. They took all the heat from others who did not vote for that candidate during the election. They told people that was their candidate because of the platform or the party. Their whole reason for voting for that candidate is negated.

It is not a small matter. When I have stood for election for the four parliaments I have been elected to, I have stood on my own reputation and I am accountable for the decisions and the actions I have taken. However, make no mistake, in my riding a lot of my constituents voted for me because they liked our platform. As long as there was a candidate who would support the platform, they would be with that person. It is likewise for the party.

If we accept that is a legitimate, rationale, understandable and important reason for people to think about voting for a candidate, the platform or the party, if one then bails out, as did Mr. Emerson, which is the richest example, and I do not like to personalize, it takes one's breath away.

I do not think the writs were even returned. The ink was hardly dry on the ballots, and this man was already trotting across the floor to join another party. He believed that was the right thing to do, for him, but what about all those constituents who had a reason to believe that once elected, the member would actually go about enacting the platform and policies of the party that member belonged to?

By crossing the floor, in many cases a member is throwing away what he or she believed in to join a party that is 180 degrees in the other direction. How do we think constituents feel? They would sit there wondering what happened. Constituents went out and voted in good faith, as did all their friends, and they expected that the money they donated to that campaign and the sign that they posted were all to help get enough seats on a particular platform so that the way the constituent would have liked to have seen Canada shaped on a particular issue would have actually happened. Now that would be gone, because the member could just cross the floor in order to remain a cabinet minister. It really is problematic.

I have great respect for the other views. It is never easy to change things around here, and for good reason. We do not want to rush to change, but by the same token, we cannot be afraid of change. This is an evolving place, and the way we do business here does evolve.

It would seem to me that it is an appropriate restriction on members when they get to this place. Just as members cannot break the rules of the code of conduct or break the rules of the House—

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have three minutes when this bill returns on the order paper.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, the situation is simple. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. That committee has met a number of times, at first to discuss the Auditor General's reports, which the previous committee had begun to consider.

It is important that we reopen those studies. Fourteen of the Auditor General's chapters remain on hold. Seven of those chapters simply needed to be tabled by the committee in order to get a government response. Three other chapters simply needed to be adopted by the committee. The reports had been adopted by the committee and referred by the committee for a government response, but, for three of them, the committee still had work to do.

We moved a motion. We made it public even before the committee meeting began. The government decided the meeting would be held in camera. That is why we moved our motion in public. We also managed to talk about it a bit at the beginning.

I would like to specify, and this has been reported in the media, that the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie, a member of the committee, said outside the closed doors that, with this election, much has changed.

He said that with this election, much has changed.

He also mentioned that he wanted to start again with a fresh slate.

He also mentioned that he wanted to “start with a fresh slate”.

I want to point out that, in these reports, the Auditor General raised some very important points, notably the massive cost overruns in the purchase of military helicopters, the poor management of parliamentary building repairs and, a hot topic at the time, the charges against the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

So, we introduced this motion. Then we went to an in camera session. I obviously cannot repeat what was said, but I can say that the motion was not passed. It is not in the minutes. If it had passed, it would be there.

I would like to point out that this is a question of transparency and accountability, and we are sorry that the committee decided to meet in camera. We voted against that. As I said, this question is fundamental to transparency and accountability.

We received a comment from a voter in Ottawa, Andrew MacLeod, who spoke out against these actions. I would like to read what he wrote:

I would like to register my disappointment and anger at your recent [decision] to go in camera and shelve a number of reports from the Auditor General's office. This is particularly disappointing given that the Conservative government came into power in 2006 upon a platform of transparency and accountability. I believed it then, which is why I was ready to vote Conservative at that time. However, here we are five years later, and it's apparent that you learned nothing from the experiences of the previous Liberal government.

It may be within your rights--

--he is still addressing Conservative members--

--as a committee to decide not to study these reports and to decide that the public should not know about their contents. But it is not right. We, as Canadian citizens, send you to Ottawa to make decisions for us and to spend our money wisely. We do not send you there to recklessly fritter away our hard-earned tax dollars--

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I will give the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board an opportunity to reply.

6:55 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification

Madam Speaker, I remind my colleague that we did not cause the spring 2011 election. It was the opposition parties that did. It was his party that did.

Our government wanted, at the time and to this day, to work hard for Canadians, not as the NDP continues to do in striving every day to advance endless cheap political games.

Last spring the NDP caused the election, which ground to a halt all of the work that was under way in Parliament, and that set us back. Right now in the public accounts committee, we are in the midst of a study into the spring 2011 Auditor General's report; in a few weeks, we will have to study the fall 2011 Auditor General's report. We have public accounts to study in a couple of weeks as well, and untold other business until the winter constituency break.

The public accounts committee, as well as others, was in the midst of or had completed studies on matters related to that Parliament, the previous Parliament, the 40th Parliament. With the election, much changed.

I congratulate the new chair of the public accounts committee as the first NDP chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I look across the way during committee to see several newly elected MPs on our side too. I do not think anyone would suggest that the current position of Parliament reflects the Parliament before the spring election.

I know it is difficult to believe, but we are now at the beginning of November. That gives us just over one month to address a lot of new material, so I just do not know how that member or his party could propose taking on all the work from the last Parliament as well. Where does it stop? With this new Parliament, should we revisit studies from the 39th Parliament as well?

It is unfortunate but true that the spring 2011 election set us back. I, along with the government members of the committee, cannot simply rubber-stamp reports from the last Parliament. That is not fair to the subject matter and it is not fair to the new members on our committee.

While I think it is unfortunate, and I remind the members that this situation was not the government's doing, I do not believe we can begin to look backward when we have so much work ahead of us.

7 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague. I would like to point out that Parliament was adjourned and the work interrupted because of a motion of contempt, a first in Canadian history. The fact that we have a new Parliament does not mean that the chapters of the Auditor General's reports are no longer pertinent.

It is not as much work as he claims. The government will be asked to provide a response to only seven chapters. That will take five minutes. The reports on the other three chapters to be studied must be approved by the committee and returned to Parliament. We are talking about a half hour's work approximately. Three reports, including the one on the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, remain to be studied.

The fact that there is a new government does not make the problems go away. The problems identified by the Auditor General must be dealt with and that is why we raised the issue. If we want the Canadian public to have confidence in its institutions, these decisions should at least have been made in public and not behind closed doors.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, it is not fair to force new MPs to deal with reports of previous committees when they were not even around at the time. They did not even have the benefit of hearing witnesses, nor of discussing these reports in committee. These are simply not their reports.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, with new reports and new witnesses. We need to get going right away on these new reports to get work done for Canadians.

7 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise again in this chamber to raise an issue that is very important to my riding and to accountability in this country. This regards the current President of the Treasury Board, the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, and the misallocation of nearly $50 million of border infrastructure funds. These funds did not go into ridings like mine, where there is a significant thickening of the Canada-U.S. border which affects our economy, tourism and a whole series of very important things.

When I asked my question, the President of the Treasury Board's assistant got up to answer, as he has done so many times in the House of Commons. He gave a rebuttal but he did not expand on why there was no accountability. This is very important as we are talking about $50 million.

I have a couple of examples of critical things which took place while the President of the Treasury Board was spending $50 million on glow sticks, gazebos, arenas, a fake lake, different projects that really were not appropriate for the G8 and G20.

In Windsor, the federal government closed the administration and decision-making component of our customs and border facility for a few million dollars. Agents in Windsor have to communicate with an office 400 kilometres away, in Fort Erie. This is despite a government report that said if there was going to be consolidation of the Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and Windsor areas, it should be situated in Windsor because it is the busiest international border crossing between Canada and the United States. It is one of the busiest in the world. Agents are dealing with drug busts. They are dealing with issues regarding immigrants coming into Canada illegally. They are dealing with all kinds of problems on a daily basis. They now have to radio an office 400 kilometres away to get someone to make a decision about apprehending individuals.

The Conservatives often talk about being tough on crime. All kinds of handguns are getting into Canada through the U.S. border and it is unacceptable. It increases crime and tragedy in Canada.

Meanwhile, $50 million was being spent 650 kilometres away from the Windsor-Detroit border on gazebos, fake lakes and a series of pet projects. At the same time the government was cancelling and closing the administration and supervisory capacity at the busiest border crossing, the Windsor-Detroit crossing. That is just not acceptable. We want answers.

If the government has money to allocate for those things, then surely it has enough money to protect the streets of Windsor and Essex County all the way along the 400-series highways to Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. It does not make any sense to cut a few million dollars out of the budget and move operations 400 kilometres away just because the Conservatives had pet pork-barrel projects 650 kilometres in the other direction.

It is very important to recognize that these ideological cuts by the Conservatives are because they want to cut the department by 5% through attrition. The decision is not based on need or fact. In fact, that decision is counter to reports the government made.

I would like to have an answer as to why the government would redirect money from border infrastructure and border support systems to Muskoka. The money should have been put into Windsor to protect the streets of Ontario.

7:05 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, there were no funds redirected from border security to the G8 fund. In fact, there was a top-up that was authorized by the House of Commons to the border infrastructure fund that ensured any dollars spent would not come out of existing allocations for border security. That should put the hon. member's mind at ease as a representative for the Windsor border region.

On the broader question of the G8 fund, it is clear that the House of Commons should have been made more aware of the details of the authorization that it voted for in the estimates leading up to the projects that were funded. That mistake was pointed out by the Auditor General. The government acknowledged it and has pledged to fix it for future allocations and expenditures.

The good news is that of the 32 projects identified and approved by Infrastructure Canada, all of them either came in on or under budget. We know where every single penny went. If members of the public want to know how those dollars were spent, they can go to the Infrastructure Canada website where everything is publicly listed.

The outcome is that we know where the money went. We know what it was spent on, and it all came in under budget.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, what it really boils down to is for Canadians to figure out that $50 million went to gazebos, fake lakes, and a series of projects that were supposed to be border funds. Perhaps the cut I am talking about in particular here was not a border infrastructure fund but surely the government could have reallocated those moneys for those operations when it was seeking to cut the Windsor decision-making process that keeps guns, drugs and illegal immigrants off the streets of Canada, but it did not do that. We would have had that money easily available for 50 years if it were not misappropriated.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, once again, the funds were not redirected away from any border security initiative. They were authorized as additional or supplementary funds that allowed the projects to occur without diverting resources away from the important priorities, such as border security, with which the hon. member is so legitimately preoccupied.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso is not present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice has been given. Accordingly the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:10 p.m.)