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House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, whenever the issue of parliamentary reform comes up for debate, it is always nice to be able to express what I think are important issues. I hope people will be somewhat generous in terms of relevancy. We are in an interesting time in that we have seen a lot of things happen with respect to parliamentary reform. I want to focus on two aspects.

One is the need for reform in terms of the number of members of Parliament. We had a good discussion about that just before winding down the fall sitting. It is something I would not mind reviewing. Members will recall that the government decided to increase the size of the House of Commons. It was interesting to hear the different opinions from the three political parties on that issue. We have always maintained that given today's reality and priorities this was not necessary. Without any hesitation whatsoever I would suggest that the vast majority of Canadians do not support the need for parliamentary reform in the sense of increasing the size of the House of Commons.

When we talk about parliamentary reform, we should be talking about how best to meet the needs of our constituents. There are different ways in which the government could have addressed the issue. We were disappointed that the government decided that the short answer to this issue was to increase the size.

We could just as easily have seen an increase in the resources available to individual MPs as opposed to increasing the overall number of MPs. With additional resources members of Parliament would be able to better serve their constituents.

There is always a great deal of discussion in terms of first past the post, plurality of votes, multi-member ridings, and so forth. I have always found these debates to be of great interest. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a small task force on parliamentary reform. There is a great deal of interest from the public to participate.

In my discussions I found that people appreciate one member, one ward. People appreciate that we operate with a first past the post system, even though there is a great deal of interest in individuals acquiring more than 35% or 38% of the vote in order to ultimately win. There could be a runoff ballot. I have heard many discussions in regard to that. There is a great deal of merit in that.

This is not the first time I have seen the issue that is before us. The first time I saw this specific issue was in the Manitoba legislature. The New Democratic Party introduced it. When it got to the committee stage, it was interesting to see the number of presenters who came forward. A former New Democrat, Sid Green, talked about how government cannot take away the right of a member of Parliament or an MLA to do what the member thinks is the right thing to do in terms of crossing the floor. Winston Churchill crossed the floor on several occasions, I am told. I do not think we would find very many Canadians who would suggest that Winston Churchill was a poor politician or not a wise politician. Winston Churchill is probably one of the most recognized parliamentarians worldwide because of some of the things he did during World War II.

There were cases presented in the committee that challenged whether or not the law being proposed by the NDP was constitutional. I would have had a very difficult time if my political party was trying to force me into a position which was completely at odds with my constituents.

In the past we have seen individuals make good decisions in terms of serving their constituents. Crossing the floor would be a very difficult decision to make, but I find it rather odd that a party that wants to come across as being a grassroots party would suggest that this would be an illegal activity.

There are other ways to do it. I made reference to the task force in Manitoba in which I participated. Another way would be recall. Public support could be gained for other ways.

At the end of the day, when we talk about members of Parliament and their ability to act on what is important, it is important that they have the opportunity to leave a political entity if they think that political entity is not meeting the needs of their constituents first and foremost.

The most significant reference I could make is that of Winston Churchill. If we looked at the British Commonwealth as a whole, we would find many cases where it has been justified and individuals have been re-elected after crossing the floor.

I have had exchanges with individuals here in Ottawa as well as in Manitoba. I have received responses that have been fairly positive toward this. All political parties have benefited by it. In Manitoba, I believe there was a Liberal MLA who went over to the New Democratic Party. I do not think there were any New Democrats who complained about it at the time. In fact, I believe they felt the individual had a right to do so.

Ultimately, we have to take into consideration that there is a Constitution. I believe individuals have a right to do what they believe is in the best interests of their constituents. If that means participating in another caucus, they should be allowed to do so.

However, when we talk about electoral reform, there are other priorities that are more important than this issue. I would like to extend to members the challenge of how to get more people to participate in elections. I would welcome a lot more discussion on that.

I have made the suggestion to put the choice of “none of the above” on the ballot. I have also suggested, and Manitoba has adopted, allowing more people to vote in places such as malls where people convene.

I am more interested in trying to engage people in participating in the electoral process and opening up nominations than what this bill is attempting to do. It is trying to dishonour or discredit the political process that has worked exceptionally well. The system that we have has worked exceptionally well. By discrediting it, we are ultimately discrediting the democratic process. I would suggest--

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with a touch of humility that I rise here today in support of Bill C-306, introduced by my hon. colleague from Pontiac. I mentioned humility because Bill C-306 led me to reflect on my role as a member of Parliament, and more importantly, on the principles that motivated me to run in the last two elections. It has always been clear to me, but to sum it up in a speech and then articulate it here in the House requires some reflection.

According to this bill, if a member decides to change parties, this decision would automatically lead to a byelection in the riding of the floor crosser. Or else the floor crosser would have to sit as an independent until the end of that Parliament. The spirit of this bill, of course, is meant to protect the democratic choices of Canadians. In light of what has already been said about this bill on both sides of the House, it seems to me that there are two conflicting opinions regarding the role of an MP. Once again here today, these conflicting views will emerge, but no one dares to spell out what they are. I would like to identify these two categories from the outset. If the adjectives I use rub people the wrong way, I apologize. However, someone must have the courage to say them.

There is humble conception of the role of MPs and there is an elitist conception. Those two notions are at odds when it comes to this bill. Bill C-306 is the humble vision. The government's reaction, and that of the third party, is the elitist vision. There is a very clear line and, from what I have read, it is completely unyielding. Let us not forget that sitting in a seat here in this House and representing a constituency comes with tremendous privileges. These social privileges automatically place all federal members in the now-famous 1%. While the west is going through a period of economic difficulties and uncertainties, we, as democratically elected members of Parliament, are sheltered from that wave.

I think that is the very definition of the word “privilege”. This privilege is the result of our democratic responsibilities. We work hard in return; we represent the people of a constituency and we do our best to defend their interests. Careful, I detected some rude remarks in my colleagues' comments. We do not represent the people who voted for us; we represent everyone in our riding, regardless of what party they voted for or whether they voted at all.

Those who place this democratic trust in us deserve a minimum of recognition. The seat I am sitting on is not my seat; it belongs to the people of L'Ancienne-Lorette, Loretteville and Wendake. Louis-Saint-Laurent is not my riding, it is the riding that I represent. A majority of people in the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent voted for me to occupy this seat on their behalf. That is my job. Their commitment to me is instrumental.

A member is first and foremost responsible to the people. I am not invincible and I remain humble before the task entrusted to me by the voters of Louis-Saint-Laurent. I admit that some very talented people elected to the House can be elected merely on the basis of their reputation. That is the ultimate accomplishment of a career in democracy. These talented people can be found in all the parties represented in the House. We all admire a number of our colleagues—often without consideration of their political persuasion.

This is not the case for everyone. Many are elected because they represent a party. That is the political party system and, although this system does have some flaws, we accepted a long time ago that it has more pluses than minuses when it comes to the democratic process. And for good reason. Some members who were recently elected because they were members of a certain party will soon prove to be incredibly talented and may perhaps be re-elected later just on their reputation.

And since I am talking about humility and great merit, I would like to point out the excellent work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who introduced this bill about 15 years ago. Fifteen years, what does that represent? It represents 15 years of inaction on something that is so simple. We in the NDP have not changed our position. We fight for the principles we believe in. Respect is the guiding principle that directs our work. We are not here for the privileges; we are here because someone must shape and build our country. This bill reiterates that power belongs to the citizens of Canada and that this power is exercised during elections in order to send representatives to Ottawa. It reiterates that the power in our system comes from the bottom and not the top. The member does not choose; citizens choose through the elected member.

This bill, which would limit the ability of elected individuals to put their own interests ahead of the voters' democratic choice, reflects the NDP's view that our democracy can be improved. How does the fact that other Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, do not have such laws justify abandoning this idea? Can Canada not innovate in politics? Voters find this lack of flexibility discouraging. Everyone knows that. Everyone claims to be aware of and concerned about the crisis of legitimacy we are facing.

Fewer and fewer Canadians bother to vote. Voters feel alienated from government. Yet nobody is doing anything. The system does not change. What is the current situation? Anemic voter turnout and pervasive cynicism. Do we have to wait until voter turnout in general elections drops below 50%, which is what happened during the last provincial election in Ontario?

The system is fundamentally exclusive. Neither the government nor the third party are truly concerned about voter turnout. That is the only explanation. This way, they win. The situation does not bother them because they have a basically elitist view of an MP's role.

I have tried to make sense of their arguments, but I can see only one troubling conclusion: voters are not relevant to the debates. The people are secondary. The member of Parliament is the only one who really matters. As I understand it, elitism is the best word to describe what is going on here. These people think that members of Parliament are an end unto themselves. An election victory is proof of intellectual greatness, confirmation of brilliance, an A+ awarded by the nation. These MPs turn up in Ottawa like little monarchs because, clearly, the people in their ridings could see that they deserved a place in the 1%. I apologize if I have offended anyone, but not talking about this would be much worse.

At first reading of this bill, some members of the House very seriously stated the following by way of criticism:

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.... 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.

I do not want to make a value judgment, but this was said by an elected member of a resolutely strict, closed and exclusive government whose thoughts are systematically expressed as a single voice as a result of blatant internal terror. I will refrain from commenting on its legitimacy.

A floor crosser often acts to save his own skin. The wind blows in a certain direction, the person loses the favour he once had and panic pushes him a little bit left or right, depending on the case.

At first reading of Bill C-306, many members searched the long list of former floor crossers in Canadian history to find exceptional cases that would justify the act. When they failed to find any truly glorious and memorable examples, they quickly turned to world history. Perhaps because Carthaginian leader Hannibal was too obscure, they decided to mention Sir Winston Churchill, who changed political parties several times. Any reference to Sir Winston Churchill in this context is extreme. The man made a direct contribution to the survival of western civilization through the force of his character, and he received a Nobel Prize in Literature. His case is in a class of its own. Let us not compare apples and oranges.

Some members are trying to confuse voters. They want to lead voters to believe that they are acting in the interest of voters when, clearly, they are acting in their own interest. Members get used to their privileges. They start to feel invincible and they will do anything they can to stay here. After all, they got an A+, did they not?

I am confused when some hon. members refute the intention of this bill by saying that it is ineffective, since it is really the court of public opinion that judges members of Parliament. Essentially, they are saying that the system regulates itself. Is neo-liberalism being applied to the political party system?

If we follow the hon. member's reasoning to the letter, a member of Parliament is completely disconnected from his or her electors and has to defend his or her record just once every four years. It is clear what the Conservatives' priorities are. This also suggests that the message sent during the previous election is quite meaningless for the Conservatives and the Liberals. The mandate that is given to a member of Parliament under a specific banner ideally should last until the next general election. We know that circumstances change. We know that people change their minds. However, we are not talking about whether we want rice or potatoes with our steak. We are talking about affiliation to a political party and the convictions of the voters who made their choice.

The New Democratic Party, as I was saying earlier, has strong principles. An MP is not a demigod whose opinion is worth more than that of the people who sent him or her to Ottawa. We are not talking about a mandate from heaven. Just because an MP believes that the ideology he or she once defended is no longer suitable does not mean that walking away is morally acceptable.

The MP is in Ottawa precisely because the people want him or her to be here. Leaving it up to the voters to decide in the next general election does not make crossing the floor morally acceptable. That is why we strongly believe that a member who crosses the floor, as honourable as it is, has to answer to the voters if he or she decides to change parties.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I take great pride in rising to speak in favour of Bill C-306, introduced by my colleague from Pontiac.

In the last parliament, I had the privilege of introducing a similar bill due in part to the experience that I had in my own riding, Vancouver Kingsway, which I will speak about in just a few moments.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who has been a champion of this kind of legislation for many years in the House.

Fundamentally, the bill is about democracy. Fundamentally, the bill is about respect for voters. Fundamentally, this bill is about elections and the way Canadians choose their representatives in their parliaments and legislatures in this country. Bill C-306 proposes that byelections be called when an elected member of any political party in this House decides on their own to change to another political party than the one chosen by the voters in that member's riding during his or her term of office.

The bill proposes that byelections also be called when an independent member decides to join a political party during his or her term in office if he or she were elected as an independent. However, byelections are not called, according to this legislation, when an elected member of a political party decides to become an independent during his or her term in office. This exception is important because it allows a member of Parliament to make a principled stand against his or her party if they deem it appropriate, but removes the incentive to do so for personal gain or in violation of the clear expression of the voters of the riding.

What is floor crossing? It is essentially a betrayal of the trust that electors put in us when they send us to Ottawa. When candidates run under the banner of a party, they are saying that they agree broadly with the principles and leadership of that party. To expand on that, the reality of elections in Canada is this.

We have 100,000 to 150,000 voters in many of our ridings. We do not get to meet all of those voters. It is impossible for voters to come to independently interview each candidate running for office. Therefore, our country and modern democracies around the world have developed a party structure, allowing people to gather together and ascribe to broad and general concepts, philosophies and principles and to present that grouping of policies and principles to the public. Why is that important? It is important because that is how voters express their democratic will. They do not have to independently interview each candidate. They know that when someone is running as a Conservative, a Liberal or a New Democrat, they can trust that those candidates broadly represent a set of principles, policies and philosophies reflecting that voter's intention.

I have heard some highfalutin stuff in the House from the third party in particular that I think is utter nonsense.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

That's what we think of what you're saying.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

It suggests that people do not vote for the parties in this country—

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

People vote for people too, you know.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, can I have some quiet, please, from the hon. member behind me? I listened carefully when he was talking. The member should respect democracy. I have the floor.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. Indeed, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway will continue.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is hard to concentrate when I have a yapper two desks behind me who wanted everyone to be silent in this House.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, all members are honourable members in the chamber. Sometimes when we get emotional in a speech, as the member is starting to do in his speech, someone will heckle, even within our own political parties. It was nothing that was meant to be disruptive. As to whether or not it is unparliamentary, it is the manner in which one puts it.

The member was expressing himself passionately on an issue. Yes, I did say one or two words. They were not meant to be rude. I apologize if the member felt that it was not appropriate for me to have said so.

Having said that, I do not believe it was appropriate for him to take his cheap shots either.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I think the member has apologized and we will move on. I would ask the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway to continue. I hope all members will try to maintain decorum while another member is speaking in the House.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, when electors vote for a particular party, a particular candidate, they need to have confidence that the person will faithfully represent and reflect those policies and principles in the House of Commons. I would argue that members in the House who pretend that the voters of their riding are voting for them personally and not also heavily influenced by the party, policies, principles and philosophies represented by their party are seriously mistaken.

It is a promise that candidates make to their constituents that they will faithfully represent the platform they are running on, the party platform. It is in that way that the electors' votes can faithfully be counted in a Canadian election and we can call ourselves a democracy.

If people can represent themselves to be one party and then come to the House of Commons and switch to a different party, how can that be a faithful representation of the voters of our country? It cannot.

The history of floor crossing has been talked about in many speeches in the House. Historically, members who have crossed the floor have, in some cases, done so on a position of principle but most have not done so for any high-minded policy reasons or because of the interests of their constituents. Historically, this has been done for personal gain.

A few recent examples come to mind: Belinda Stronach, who moved from opposition to a cabinet post in the Liberal government; David Emerson, from my riding of Vancouver Kingsway, who moved from the Liberal opposition bench to a cabinet position in a Conservative government.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

How many days after he was elected.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

He did that 14 days after the voters sent him to this House as a Liberal. Other examples include Garth Turner, Wajid Khan and Blair Wilson.

I want to talk about Vancouver Kingsway because I know the story very personally. In 2006, when the Conservative Party first got a minority government, my own member of Parliament, David Emerson, who had been a Liberal cabinet minister, crossed the floor two weeks after the election to become a Conservative cabinet minister. The people of Vancouver Kingsway felt outraged and betrayed by that decision. That betrayal was most deeply felt by the many voters who voted for a Liberal member of Parliament. Moreover, the party that came in second in that election was my own, the New Democratic Party of Canada.

I want to go over some of the numbers in that election. The Liberals in that election had 20,000 votes, the NDP had 15,500 votes and the Conservatives had 8,600 votes. We had 35,500 people who voted for a party other than the Conservatives against 8,600 who voted for the Conservatives.

Not only did the Conservative Party come third in that election, it came far back. The two parties combined, other than the Conservatives, had 400% more votes than the Conservatives and yet the people of Vancouver Kingsway found themselves represented by a Conservative member of Parliament in a Conservative cabinet for his term of office.

That is fundamentally undemocratic and a betrayal of the voters of Vancouver Kingsway, and that is exactly what the people of Vancouver Kingsway declared to this country.

Interestingly, on election night, Mr. Emerson celebrated his victory for the Liberals by declaring publicly on television that he would be the Prime Minister's worst nightmare. Two weeks later, on February 6, he was that same Prime Minister's minister of international trade. Who would stand in the House and justify such a fundamental betrayal of the democratic process? That is just absolutely awful.

The people of Vancouver Kingsway rose up in disgust. Signs sprung up all over Vancouver Kingsway. People like Mike Watson, the president of the local Conservative Riding Association, a man of rare integrity and principle, people like Jurgen Claudepierre, a lifelong Liberal supporter, and Shannon Steele, the New Democrat, worked together from all three sides of the political spectrum to oppose that fundamental rejection of the will of the people of Vancouver Kingsway.

For a democracy to work, people need to have trust in their politicians and trust is at an all time low in this country. People are not voting in elections. Why? It is because they do not trust politicians to keep their word.

There is no more fundamental breach of trust of politicians in this country than to ask for someone's trust and vote to represent their philosophy in the House of Commons and then get into the House and change. The recent example of the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain crossing the floor is outrageous. The numbers are staggering. The Liberals had 12% in that riding and the member thinks it is a fair representation of constituents' vote to cross the floor to the Liberal Party. That is fundamentally wrong and should not be defended by anybody. This legislation should be put into practice to bring democracy to this country.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I would first like to echo what my hon. colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent said, that is, it is an honour to be able to speak to this bill, knowing—

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I would ask for some order in the House while the member is speaking.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, as I was saying, I wish to echo the sentiments of my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent. She said it was an honour to speak to this bill, knowing that over the past few months, those of us who are new here have had the opportunity to understand the honour and the significance of such a responsibility. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. member for Pontiac on the work he has done on this file and his bill. I would also like to congratulate the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who carried this torch for many years.

I would like to come back to the comments made earlier by one of my colleagues from the other opposition party. He said that this would jeopardize members' ability to follow their conscience and to speak out when their party heads in a direction that goes against the wishes of their constituents.

When considering such a comment, it is important to remember one nuance in the bill. After deciding to leave a political party, a member may sit as an independent. That is very important because sitting as an independent provides an opportunity to say that the choices made by his or her political party no longer correspond to the choices of the electorate. The member would not have to join a party with ideas that are contrary to those of his or her voters.

There are a number of examples. Some of our provincial colleagues, in Quebec for example, acted this way. Without commenting on debates that are not within our purview, the fact remains that, in their case, they said they left their party because they believed it was no longer the party their voters voted for.

It is understandable that by joining another party they give the opposite impression. Recent events are a perfect example. There was a glaring example this evening, during a vote on a bill. Bill C-25 deals extensively with retirement and pensions. One of our colleagues has left one party and joined another, and she voted against the NDP. I have a great deal of difficulty believing that the voters of Saint-Maurice—Champlain would have agreed with her decision, in light of the fact that they chose a certain political platform on May 2.

Choosing a political platform is very important. I will again reiterate the comments of the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. All members work very hard to represent the voters in their ridings as best they can. In spite of the individual work of a member, he or she cannot be everywhere at the same time. That is when a party's platform is very important. When people choose a political party, it obviously plays an important role because the name of the political party is on the ballot. The most hard-working member must have people in the riding who will identify with the name of the political party that appears beside their name on the ballot. Every member works to transcend the existence of his or her party. The member must do such a good job that we forget their political affiliation and we really think about what they do. We are at least associated with this work.

I can speak from personal experience and I am certain that many of my colleagues would agree with me. When a person decides to enter politics and to represent a political party, he is very aware of the principles of that party, as are the voters. That is probably the reason—at least I hope it is—that the person chose to become involved in that particular party in the first place. I find it very hard to believe that someone would be prepared to put his name on a ballot and, if he wins the election, fulfill the responsibilities of a member of Parliament for a political party whose values do not completely correspond to his own.

I find it very hard to understand that situation. I would also like to come back to an example given by the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway—the case of David Emerson. At that time, I was in the middle of my political science degree. When this event occurred, I was sitting in a class of political science students. These are informed people who understand our country's parliamentary system and electoral realities. No one in the room was prepared to say that he made the right decision and no one could begin to understand why a member of Parliament was prepared to go against the wishes and will of the voters so soon after an election—whether it be two weeks, as in 2006, or seven months, as was the case recently.

I have a personal example to illustrate this point. One morning in my riding, Chambly—Borduas, I was having coffee with a resident of Saint-Basile-le-Grand, where I live. She made a very interesting comment about the work of my predecessor, whom I respect very much. She said that, despite the fact that he had done so much for our region and our riding, it was time for change; there were things that needed changing. Among other things, she mentioned my predecessor's stance on various issues as a member of a particular political party with particular ideas. In the end, she said that she had nothing against the person in question, who was a hard-working guy like the other MPs here, but that he was bound by certain ideas and had to make decisions based on his political party.

One could easily argue that if ever that MP had stopped believing in those ideas, he could have switched parties. That may be true, but the fact remains, as I said at the outset, that he was elected under a banner, and the fact that he could choose to join a party whose ideas stood in stark opposition to the platform on which he was elected is utterly incomprehensible. Just consider some of the examples given. I gave one recently. Take Mr. Emerson and Ms. Stronach. I would bet that no Liberal or Conservative would be prepared to say that they have anything in common. Yet individuals elected as members of one political party were prepared to switch to another. Would my colleagues say that their ideas are similar? Not at all. People in the ridings voted for certain ideas, which the MP no longer espouses. I think that is what we have to keep in mind as we talk about this bill.

The other important element of this bill is the notion of respect for the electorate. If we look at what happened in 2006 or even more recently, the concerns of Canadians are clear. People made it very clear that they wanted byelections. Thus, we must bear something in mind when making a decision: the people's wishes. We must respect those wishes. And if a member makes a decision knowing that it is in the best interests of his or her constituency, riding or region, I have no problem with that person running in a byelection. If his or her convictions are right, I am 110% convinced that the people would share those convictions. And this would show in the results of the byelection. Being in politics takes courage—the courage to be accountable for what we say and do, especially what we do. This is what would happen if that individual were to run in a byelection. If that person had made the right choice, as I said, the result would reflect the people's wishes. I think that is the basic idea of this bill.

That is why I invite all members of the House, with their parties' convictions and those of the people they represent, to support this bill.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

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

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation). Like my colleagues who spoke before me, I would like to congratulate the member for Pontiac for his initiative. I would also like to congratulate the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his excellent work; he has been working on this since 1999. In fact, since 1999, the NDP has asked that members who cross the floor during their term of office go before the voters to ratify their decision. We believe that this is fair and democratic, contrary to what members of the third party, for example, might say.

It is important that we mention it. This bill makes a lot of sense in terms of democracy because the general election campaign is always the moment when voters—every four or five years, or more often in recent years—have the opportunity to mark an X beside the name of the person who will represent them for those four or five years. In theory, parliamentary tradition says that the voter votes for the local candidate. That is just a theory. In reality, and I believe that we would all agree, people vote for many reasons. Some vote for the local candidate and others for the leader of a party or for a political party and its platform.

The most recent case is that of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain who, less than eight months after the election, decided to switch parties. This case clearly showed that people are against this type of political shift. Immediately afterward, a poll was conducted by Leger Marketing in Quebec with more than 1,000 respondents. People who responded truly represented popular opinion. And yes, the poll was taken after the deed was done and reactions were heated. I can say that the opinion is the same when a public opinion poll is take before or after a similar event.

The poll indicated that 60% of the respondents felt that members of Parliament who were elected for a party should not change political affiliation. Only 32%, or less than a third of the respondents agreed with the principle, but 60% were against it. Nevertheless, since our parliamentary system currently allows it, respondents were asked whether a member of Parliament in this case should have their decision confirmed through a byelection and 70% of the people agreed. Only 22% said it was not necessary. The public wants this type of change and the latest incident clearly shows there is a public consensus in favour of an initiative like the one being proposed in Bill C-306.

I mentioned that people vote for a multitude of reasons and the hon. member for Winnipeg North said that people were voting for Jack Layton in the case of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. That is true, just as they voted for the NDP and its policies, just as they might have voted for the local candidate. This was my fourth election campaign and I know that many people in Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques voted for me. I also know that if I had run as an independent, I would not have won this election.

If the hon. member for Winnipeg North, among others, who made all those comments during the earlier presentation by my colleague, is truly convinced that people only vote for the local candidate, as he suggested in his presentation, I challenge him to run as an independent in the next election and see what happens. He will not do it because running with a political party, benefiting from the resources available during an election campaign and an electoral platform that he promotes along with himself, is what got him elected, just as I was able to get elected for the same reasons.

To say that, in theory, people vote for the local candidate and that is how we should look at this, is incorrect. In practice, people clearly think differently.

It is important to understand that people vote only every four or five years and that they vote for all those reasons. If a member of Parliament changes parties, the people who voted for all those reasons feel betrayed, and for good reason. That is what happened in the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, and that is what happened in the riding of Newmarket—Aurora, for example, when Belinda Stronach changed parties. That is also what happened in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway. Voters feel betrayed because they feel cheated out of their choice, particularly those who vote for the political party, the party leader or the platform. Many people do it. The Leger Marketing poll that I just cited also asked people what motivates them to vote for a certain person during an election.

According to the poll, close to 30% of people vote for a political party; 30% vote for the party platform; between 20% and 25% vote for the party leader; and only 12% vote for the strength or character of the riding candidate. During a general election, people vote a certain way for many reasons, and when a person who became a member of Parliament for reasons other than his own candidacy changes parties in the middle of his term, the people who voted for him feel cheated.

We also need to consider the absurdity of our system of electoral politics. The Canada Elections Act prohibits voters from selling their vote. It is completely prohibited, and fairly severe sanctions are imposed on anyone who decides to sell his vote or who receives undue benefits as a result of the way he votes. However, no such sanctions exist for a member of Parliament who decides to sell his seat. Examples of people who sold their seats have been mentioned. For example, there is the case of Newmarket—Aurora, where Belinda Stronach left the Conservatives to join the Liberal government in exchange for a cabinet position. In Vancouver Kingsway, David Emerson did the opposite when he left the Liberals to join the Conservatives in exchange for a cabinet post.

Are we supposed to believe that these individuals would have deserted even if the party in power had not offered such perks? Of course not. MPs can personally sell the value of their seats and receive undue benefits as a result of the position the voters gave them. Such MPs did not necessarily get the job on their own merits, but because of a variety of factors. That is the problem Bill C-306 would fix. That is what the NDP has been trying to fix since 1999.

We keep hearing about participatory democracy. Supposedly, that is how our voters want us to vote. It is difficult for each of us to talk to all of our voters. There are 85,000 voters in my riding. I have not yet met all of them. I hope I will have a chance to meet them all in the next four years, but that is a lot of people, and I feel for the MPs who represent more than 100,000 voters.

But in this case, this is a private member's bill. Every member should be able to vote in accordance with his or her conscience. But I can guarantee that if every one of us went back to our ridings to consult the people about whether the voters should have a say in this decision, which is supposed to be made by one person, the MP, the vast majority would be in favour of the MP's decision.This is important.

I see that there are very few government members here just now, and I see one member from the third party. I think that goes a long way toward explaining the problem. We have to consider a particular situation, one that arouses voter cynicism. Once again, in his presentation, the member for Winnipeg North said that we have to tackle the situation. Fine, yes, we have to deal with it. This is our chance to do that, to tackle one cause of voter cynicism. If we were to ask the people of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, they would say that recent events have made them cynical when it comes to politics.

That is why I urge members to do their job, to consult their constituents, to find out exactly what they think of this private member's bill. I would also invite them to vote according to this decision, because it is a decision that concerns them, concerns their right to vote and the value of the decision they make during the election campaign.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Alfred-Pellan. I must inform the member that she has only about three minutes, because the hon. member for Pontiac must have time to reply.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I will try to be brief. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-306, introduced by my hon. colleague from Pontiac, which has to do with respecting voters' choices when it comes to political affiliation. I am delighted to debate this here in the House. I have been talking about this with my constituents for several weeks now. Many things have happened, at both the provincial and federal levels. Quebec has seen many political floor crossings in the past few weeks.

I have been asked many questions on the matter. People were very worried. They wanted to know what became of their choice, why members were not respecting democracy and why they were betraying the people who had elected them. Many of my colleagues talked about this here today. A few comments struck me as particularly interesting, especially comments about those who criticize the NDP's bill.

We have heard a great deal about the fact that, in Canada, we vote for an individual. That is true. Our political system means that, in an election, we vote for the next person to represent us. But if we ask our voters, most of them do not necessarily vote for the person, but rather for ideas, a party, a platform. My colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques just said that only 12% of voters vote for the individual, and not for all the other reasons that influence how people vote. Unfortunately, I find this argument a little weak. It is sad to think our electorate is being disrespected in that regard.

Someone also talked about a member's freedom of expression. I would be very careful addressing that point. Do members not have a moral obligation towards the people who elected them? When one changes parties, there is a breach of trust. My hon. colleague from Pontiac is suggesting that when members no longer agree with the ideas of their party, they can sit as independents. If they definitely want to join another party, a byelection must be held. This shows basic respect for the people's freedom of expression. Besides, members are not above the rights of others. They must respect the rights of their constituents.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. members for their enlightened speeches. I want to again congratulate the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for the work he has done for so many years on this bill.

During the last election, Canadians voted to put an end to the old ways of doing politics in Canada and to change things in Ottawa.

For the past few weeks we have been hearing about politicians who change parties, provincially and federally, as though you can change political values the way you change your shirt.

This bill is reasonable and simply provides that a member’s seat will be vacated and a byelection called for that seat only if the member changes parties or if an independent MP becomes a member of a party, as the case may be. It is a matter of respecting the voice of the people. A member’s seat will not be considered vacated if the member elected as a member of a political party chooses to sit as an independent. This is a simple and reasonable proposal to protect our democracy.

In the recent case of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, who was elected under the NDP banner and then, seven months later, turned around and joined the Liberals, the Liberals should also be ashamed for once again playing old political games. If my bill were to pass, and I truly hope it does, the voters of Mauricie would not feel today that they had been taken for a ride. They would not be so angry with politicians in general. The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain would have had to run as a Liberal and ask the people to re-elect her.

We know that people are increasingly disenchanted with politics. The three themes that people keep bringing up are members' honesty, their accountability and the waste of public funds. A growing percentage of the population thinks that politicians are lying to them, lack integrity and are wasting their money.

We can indeed talk about the growing political cynicism in Canada over the past 30 years. Since 1982, the honesty and integrity of MPs were considered to be low or very low and 10 years later, the percentage was barely 49%.

According to an article that appeared in La Presse in May 2010, in Quebec, the province where my riding is located:

The results of this survey...indicate that 87% of respondents choose adjectives such as “discouraged” or “disheartened” to describe how they feel about politics. One in five voters...is indifferent. Only 9% said they were “optimistic” and 11% were “passionate”.

Whose fault is that? Ours. We wonder why they are so disenchanted. The main reason is politicians' lack of integrity.

This makes me sad because I decided to get into politics and to become more involved in my community in order to help people fight for their causes. And I know very well that the people in the riding of Pontiac voted for me because they have confidence in my party's ideas. It is unfortunate that, in recent years, according to a number of polls on trust in various professions, politicians are always ranked at the bottom, in Quebec and in Canada. The floor crossings in recent months have only fanned the fire.

The results of a poll on the Democratize.ca site, show that, in the last two months, 80% support my Bill C-306 on political affiliation.

Therefore, I invite all Canadians to speak out about this and write to their MPs because the more Canadians who express their dissatisfaction, the better the chance that the government will vote for this bill.

We should remember that our ridings do not belong to us. They belong to the voters. The NDP has been clear: if members wish to cross the floor, they should first ask the voters. My bill to respect the voters' choice would make this mandatory.

Voters who have placed their trust in us deserve nothing less. This seat is not just an object: it represents the people of the riding of Pontiac in the House of Commons. It does not belong to us, the MPs, but to the people of the Pontiac and to our voters.

Let us honour our voters and respect our commitments.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 7:20 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.