Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to join with my many competent and capable colleagues who have spoken tonight. I want to recognize and pay tribute to some of the wisdom we have heard on this side of the House. It has been a truly stimulating debate. There have been a lot of good points and well argued.
If I could, I will pick up and preface my remarks to Bill C-15 by following through on the theme that was introduced most recently by my colleague from Davenport. I will focus on one word in the same context that he was speaking, and that word is “consultation”. We have members of our caucus on the front bench here who are experienced lawyers and they know that the word “consultation” has legal weight. It is not just as simple as a conversation between two people. There is the duty to consult and the meaning of true consultation that the Supreme Court of Canada has spoken at length to in the context of first nations and aboriginal people. What the Supreme Court has arrived at is that true consultation not only includes the conversation and exchange of ideas, it includes the accommodation of some of the reasonable concerns brought forward by the other party.
I have been here 15 years now and I have noticed a couple of colleagues who have been here as long as I have, six terms. We used to do that extensively, even in majority governments. The majority government would consult with the opposition. If the members were sincere about moving a piece of legislation forward that they knew had merit and that there was a real public interest in achieving success of that legislation, the House leaders would meet and maybe even the leaders of the parties would meet and they would discuss what it would take and what was needed to make this work. It was not quite Camelot. It was not beautiful or anything, but it was functional. Parliament used to function that way.
What we are experiencing today, and my colleague from Vegreville will probably agree, is unprecedented. I do not think there is any precedent in Canadian history. I have talked to former leaders of our party going away back. Ed Broadbent shared with me how that was a not uncommon occurrence, that they would have dinner together. The leader of the NDP and the prime minister of the day would have dinner from time to time and talk over the legislative agenda coming up for that fall session. There would be some horse trading and some feeling out of each other. Accommodating the legitimate concerns brought forward by the other parties is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of maturity and the public would welcome it, the public expects it and I think the public misses it in this Parliament.
I caution my colleagues on the Conservative side. I am not a scholar or an academic but I have been here long enough to ascertain that our parliamentary democracy is a fragile construct. When it operates well it is the best system in the world. However, all parties have to stipulate themselves to a certain set of rules and part of that is accommodating one another's legitimate concerns because the very nature of our electoral system is that no one party represents all the people. However, when a party is lucky enough to form government, it has an obligation to represent all the people, even those who did not vote for it.
I learned from my friend Gary Dewar that the first thing a smart government does when it forms government is to try to convince the people who did not vote for it that it is not such a bad thing, that it is not the end of the world that their side lost and our side won because the government will accommodate some of the voters' legitimate concerns in the process of governing. There is no evidence of that whatsoever in this Parliament and that leads to the frustration felt on our side.
We, on this side of the House, represent roughly 60% of all Canadians. They elected us here to speak on their behalf and to bring their legitimate points of view into the debate for consideration by the ruling party. It has an obligation and I argue that it will do irreparable harm to the integrity of our democratic institutions if it fails to accommodate those legitimate concerns that we bring forward.
The integrity of our institutions is not like some kind of a light switch that can be turned off for a while and then turned back on at will. It cannot be corrected that easily.
At the same time that the government is undermining the integrity of our democratic institutions, it is fueling the cynicism of an already jaded electorate who already has a fairly low opinion of government and a lack of confidence that government can and should play an active role in the well-being of the economy and their quality of life issues. The neo-conservatives have told them time and time again that government is bad, that government should be reduced. The Conservatives are an anti-government government. The Conservative government is a government that does not believe in playing an active role.
I notice my colleague who was elected the same year I was is somehow still with us. We keep asking ourselves how we both keep getting re-elected. He believes firmly that less is more when it comes to government, that there is no role.
If that message is continually pounded home, more people will ask themselves why they should even bother voting because governments are bad things, governments never listen to legitimate concerns anyway. It is an unvirtuous, whatever that term is, downward spiral.