Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was place.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as Liberal MP for Sarnia—Lambton (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2006, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to what was said. One of the words that jumped out of the speech was “simplicity”, and I certainly got some insight into simplicity by listening to it.

I have a couple of questions. I have asked this question of others opposite and never received an answer. After 300 years of our constitutional system, of our system of selection of an election day, I would like to know when, on what day, did members opposite wake up and discover that somehow they could pick a section of it they did not like and say “let us outlaw, let us change it”? When did they discover that this process, which has existed for 300 years, was not to their liking, in their opinion?

Second, in Great Britain, whose system is most identical to ours, the percentage of those who vote is lower than it is here. Why is the simplistic proposal being put forward from our friends opposite not even on the radar screen there? It is not even being talked about in that country. Are they somehow not as intelligent, perhaps, or perhaps not as simplistic as some are here?

Finally, on the one hand, I heard my friend opposite talk about coercion, which he believes exists within the Prime Minister's Office, yet he would embrace a law that would coerce people to vote. How could he reconcile that Australian model where people are on force of a fine, on pain of a fine? That would be okay with him, but somehow he sees unfair practices out of the Prime Minister's Office toward members on this side.

Supply April 27th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to my friend's speech and I have gained some insights into half-baked myself.

What I heard was that the official opposition has awakened to discover that what it believes is an unfair advantage is a system which has existed for at least 300 years. I would like to ask, when did the official opposition discover that this 300 year old practice was an unfair advantage?

I would also like to ask, in terms of efficiencies and costs, would the opposition also advocate abolition of the Governor General's office because, of course, the Governor General costs us money? There are many parts that cost us money and that would be one example. Would it support the abolition of the Crown's presence here as represented by the Governor General?

Supply April 27th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I have an observation and I have a question. First, I have now heard references to Mr. Tom Kent and an article he wrote on January 29 in The Globe and Mail. I would say that on this side we are a big tent and we accept those comments, unlike our friends in the official opposition who, for example, when they hear a statement like that made by the member for Calgary Centre, call him a traitor. We have not done that on this side.

My question revolves around references to New South Wales, Australia. I would ask my friend opposite whether he could confirm that New South Wales is indeed truly a state. Or is it one of the territories of Australia and does it in fact have a constituent assembly which does not have the legislative powers of either a provincial assembly in Canada or the Parliament of Canada?

Supply April 27th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my friend opposite and tried to follow the line of reasoning she laid out.

On the one hand she talked about what, in her opinion, the vast majority of people want. We have something called a Constitution, which is about the sharing and distribution of power in the country, and constitutions often are unfair. The Constitution is unfair in the opinion of, I would suggest, the vast majority of people because it states that Prince Edward Island, with a population of 130,000 people, will have four members in the House of Commons and will have four senators. That is an incredible unfairness, if one follows the line of logic opposite. However that in fact is the Constitution.

I would ask the member opposition a rhetorical question. On the basis of her perception of equality, fairness and her reading of what she thinks the public wants, would she be willing to smash that?

There are a number of treaties between the Government of Canada and first nations which a lot of people believe to be unfair. Those are, in fact, constitutional documents. Perhaps in a vote a majority might want to undo that. Is she in favour of undoing the Constitution because she believes that a majority is in favour?

Supply April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I am a lover of fiction and that is why I enjoyed the question from the member opposite.

What the member does not understand is that municipalities are creations of the provinces. What the member opposite is revealing is a complete disdain and lack of knowledge of the constitutional design. He said that a city has a constitutional position in this country and that it changes nothing. That is a very sad and pathetic comment.

Supply April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy the questions from my friend opposite.

With respect to his comments on crusading, something I remember with great pleasure and relish, my friend knows that Parliament is comprised of three parts: the Crown, the House of Commons, and the Senate. Any comments about the Senate have nothing to do with the Crown.

My colleague asked about my so-called attack on the Crown. It is very clear that if we are going to purport to legislate, codify, put into a statute, a law that would remove the last vestige, the most important power of the Crown, which is the right to dissolve Parliament and call an election at any time, putting it in a statute would be an attack upon the reserve powers of the sovereign.

Despite all the gibberish coming from members opposite who do not like to hear something, this is a direct attempt to remove any role of the Crown in this place. They can laugh all they want because they have not read a book about it. They have not considered it. They just follow along blindly. It is indeed an attack upon the very basis of responsible government, of representative government, and of parliamentary government. The official opposition would prefer to import American-style governance.

The member raised the example of what occurred 40 or 50 years ago in Saskatchewan. That was a decision taken by the premier, which was his right. He did not make the mistake of putting it into a statute. He understood that he could decide.

The member mentioned British Columbia where Mr. Campbell apparently enacted a law. Those members say that one law in one province out of about 100 parliamentary democracies is a wave, that it is the rule we should follow. One out of 100, one per cent is good enough for them. It is good enough for them because they do not like the present system and they want to undo it.

Supply April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I quite enjoy the bluster from the member opposite. She once again will rely on one person, Mr. Tom Kent, who was a Liberal. In fact I met with him in early February at Queen's University. She would hang her hat, figuratively speaking, on one person's written comments in the Globe and Mail on the date cited. She would say that the opinion of one Liberal would in fact be the opinion of the Liberal Party. I am not even certain that Mr. Kent is a Liberal today. I have no way of knowing.

She would turn her back on 300 years of this place. She would care to heckle instead of listening to the response. She is nattering on. The fact of the matter is that the 300 years of precedents in this place make clear that fixed election dates are impossible. Instead, she reverts to a column in a newspaper and says that is good enough for her. I am singing a duet with her because she will not allow me to answer.

In terms of the Crown, the member opposite swears her allegiance, but in fact I am certain that we in the House have already heard her speak of her support for this motion. If she would care to think about it and read it, this motion is a direct attack on the Crown, an office to which she has just said she is extremely loyal. I find it quite a remarkable position. The member opposite, in asking that question, has revealed she can assume two positions at the same time. It is quite remarkable. It is a form of mental gymnastics which I think most people would find irreconcilable and I am ashamed to say she has assumed that.

Supply April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak from this side of the House to the official opposition motion calling for measures to establish a fixed election date. The main motion calls for the fixed date to be the third Monday of the month, that is four years after the month on which the most recently held general election day fell.

Let me start by saying that in my opinion this is a totally facile motion. It is an anti-parliamentary motion as it offends every principle of parliamentary law and convention. It is a motion that, if fully enacted, would reach in and disembowel the very constitutional framework of responsible parliamentary government.

Conversely, by this very motion, members of the official opposition have revealed to us and to Canadians their constitutional ignorance of several hundred years of Parliament. They further reveal to us and to all Canadians their desire to turn Parliament into the congress of Canada.

Last weekend a former prime minister, the right hon. Brian Mulroney, in endorsing the hon. Leader of the Opposition, called upon him to re-establish the principles of the party of Sir John A. Macdonald. Whatever one thinks of Sir John A. in terms of his political actions, he was a parliamentarian who upheld the constitutional law of Parliament. His party successor, Sir John Thompson, the man from Halifax, in his brief two years as prime minister, was a brilliant tactician in the House.

We have before us today a motion that is diametrically opposed to everything for which Sir John A. stood. He was the virtual founder of that party, the person who former Prime Minister Mulroney said they should emulate, who said in a speech:

To boast of nationality in one breath, and to cry for protection in another, is at once impertinent and unmanly; and resembles nothing so much as a hale young man of twenty-one under the guardianship of a dry nurse.

With that cry of nationality, he was a Canadian. Members of the party of Sir John A. Macdonald have said that they do not like one aspect of several hundred years of this House, of Parliament, parliamentary law, parliamentary convention and therefore they want to change it. They in fact would prefer an American style fixed election date.

The party of Sir John A. is here today crying for protection from a system that has existed for several hundred years. Members opposite suddenly have discovered that if they do not like it and it does not serve their interests, they will be, in the words of Sir John A., impertinent enough to say that the government should outlaw it, that it should banish it or that it should change it simply because they do not like it.

It was Benjamin Disraeli, a very close friend of their founder, Sir John A., also a Conservative prime minister, who said in 1872:

I look upon Parliamentary Government as the noblest government in the world.

Let us remember that the official opposition, with this motion because they do not like it, would eliminate confidence as the cornerstone of our system and in its place replace it with confidence of the House, which I would submit is a most simplistic view of parliamentary government; enacting and emboldening the balance between the legislature and executive branch, which is exactly what confidence is.

The motion refers to a political prerogative that is allegedly possessed by the Prime Minister, a prerogative the official opposition asserts is “to determine when Parliament should be dissolved for the purposes of a general election”. Those are not my words, those are the words from the motion put forward by members opposite.

That is, quite simply, preposterous. It is a remarkable but, above all, false interpretation of parliamentary government. What is being said is that the Crown, the sovereign, whose reserve powers are exercised by the Governor General, has no choice; that is, there can never be a situation when and where the Crown can refuse a dissolution and an election call.

According to our friends opposite, the Crown in this country, as represented by the Governor General, is irrelevant, that it has no reserve power. They are purporting to remove the personal power of the Crown and make this country a republic, in fact.

If members of the official opposition are calling for the abolition of the Crown or, as was tried unsuccessfully in Australia a few years ago, the removal of the Governor General and turning it into a republic, then why do they not say so? If they are opposed to the Crown, to the Governor General's very existence, why do they not say so?

The last great authority on parliamentary democracy was Eugene Forsey who, in his latter days, was a senator here and who died in the 1990s. He wrote extensively on our parliamentary system. He was, from all sides of the House and in all quarters, an acknowledged constitutional expert and an acknowledged expert on Parliament and it constituent parts. I would suggest it is fortunate that he is not here to witness how low the party of Sir John A. Macdonald has descended into a political abyss.

In his work, co-authored with his researcher, Grant Eglington, entitled “The Question of Confidence in Responsible Government”, a publication readily available from the Library of Parliament, which in fact published it, he wrote on page 1:

We also wish to make plain our opinion that it is extremely difficult to borrow particular features of the United States constitutional and political system without all the others, and without importing grave difficulties for ourselves.

On page 2, they wrote:

Even admirers of the American system of government must, if honest, admit that the American system is different from ours and that it is not possible to borrow from it certain of its distinguishing features unless we are prepared to adopt the others.

On the same page it reads:

The two systems of governance are incompatible precisely because we have responsible government and they [the Americans] do not;

Lastly, they note:

--the President of the United States need not and often does not find his policies supported by one or both Houses of the Congress. From this essential incompatibility all other differences flow. Change along American lines must mean constitutional revolution.

We have heard all this constitutional revolution talk from across the way. We have heard the desire of at least two members opposite who talked about their version and imposing on our Parliament a 22nd amendment of fixed terms, limited terms. It is a remarkable admission of their republican tendencies that they wish to take this place and turn it into an American style government. It confirms in my mind what many people are saying, that this is not the party of Sir John A. Macdonald. This is the Reform Party under a different name.

Our constitutional basis for confidence, that being the law and custom of Parliament, is based on Westminster precedent, which of course refers to the precedents and practices in the United Kingdom as well as other parts of the Commonwealth. According to the motion, the official opposition is now saying:

That, unless the Government loses the confidence of the House, general elections should be held on fixed dates;

What does the party opposite mean when it states “confidence”? Is it a vote on the Speech from the Throne, on the budget, on a budget implementation bill or on a line item on the estimates? Are they not concerned about a motion, as an example, to send troops to Iraq or some other part of the world? What would occur if the House defeated such a motion authorizing the cabinet's decision to send troops? That decision is truly a prerogative of the Crown as exercised by the cabinet.

Let us imagine what would have happened a year ago if we had followed the stated and avowed position of the official opposition to send troops to Iraq. Let us imagine the House, by simple resolution, saying that it did not approve. Such a vote of disapproval might have been a confidence vote because of the clear sense of the public mind on the issue. What is certain is that confidence is much more complex, more nuanced and more subtle than a defeat on a simple monetary matter.

The reserve prerogative of the Crown to dissolve Parliament and to issue an election writ is in fact the primary and fundamental role of the Crown. Ultimately it is the sovereign right or, in Canada, the Governor General exercising the sovereign rights, who will make the decisions based upon the law and precedent of Parliament.

In the late 1930s, in the parliament of South Africa, the prime minister, Jan Smuts, lost a vote in that country's House of Commons concerning South Africa declaring itself neutral on the eve of World War II. The prime minister went to the governor general and asked for a dissolution. The governor general said no. He refused because there was an alternative leader to form a government. So much for the myth perpetrated across the way that this is a political prerogative.

Let us look at Canada in 1926 and the so called King-Byng affair, a clash over a denied request for dissolution notwithstanding a defeat on what many believed to be non-confidence against the King government. The governor general at that time asked a Conservative, Arthur Meighen, to form a government.

There are many views on this, but what is agreed upon out of all of that is that the governor general, exercising the sovereign's Crown reserve power, had the exclusive right and authority to gauge whether the House would be dissolved and we would go to an election, but no, our republican friends across the way here, our Reform friends, our Alliance friends, our new Conservative republicans would decide that they would strip those powers and they would be the ones who would decide. In fact, they would eliminate confidence.

This motion of the official opposition is, I would submit, void because it is uncertain. It has no meaning. It fails to acknowledge that elections following dissolution are within the exclusive purview of the Crown. It would strip the Crown of any powers. It attacks, most important, several hundred years of Parliamentary government and of representative government.

The official opposition by this motion fails to mention that this issue has already been rejected overwhelmingly by a majority of parliaments. Instead it points to this nascent idea which is emerging in British Columbia. It fails to recognize that the vast majority, the overwhelming majority, in fact a majority minus one, has said that such a concept is unacceptable, that such a concept is, quite frankly, unparliamentary. Members opposite would point to one example and say, “This is the rule. This is the way we must all go”.

In 1992 the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, the Lortie commission, rejected it. Members opposite might also want to read the works of Alpheus Todd. Alpheus Todd was the chief librarian of the Parliament of Canada. He was the acknowledged parliamentary constitutional expert. They might, I hope, in reading, learn something of our institution called the House of Commons and our institution called Parliament. I would recommend they examine the enacting clause of every bill before the House, that is to say:

Her Majesty, by and with the consent of the Senate and the House of Commons, enacts as follows:

I would ask them to examine their position regarding the role of the Crown. Opposition members should look to the role and relationship of Parliament to the Crown and acknowledge that under our Constitution there is a constitutional design. It is about the distribution and the sharing of powers among this House, the other place and at the top of it, the Crown. But no, they say that the Crown has no powers. They are the new age republicans.

Again I will say, if the Conservative Party members wish to change Canada into a republic, then let them say it. If the official opposition wishes to constrain or eliminate the Crown, or the most fundamental reserve powers of the Crown, the last powers it possesses, then let the Conservatives put it into their party platform rather than hiding behind a motion in the House, or worse yet, a private member's bill from their leader.

When the opposition members do not like something they hear, they like to heckle. One thing we can all agree upon is that the party opposite is clearly not the party of Sir John A. Macdonald. Despite former Prime Minister Mulroney's entreaty last week for it to be a moderate party, to embrace the principles of Sir John A. Macdonald, it is in fact embracing American principles.

Let the Conservative members reveal in their party platform what they are really about. Are they asking us to embrace a fixed election date as if we were a republic? Are they asking us even further to embrace a 22nd amendment to limit terms? Why do they not come out and say it?

I am certain that people will recognize this as a most unparliamentary motion and that it is new age jingoism. It will be rejected by the House because it is an attack upon the House.

Supply April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech given by my friend from across the way. In many respects it resembled a trip to the dollar store. It laid out a vast array of sparkling items, but in the end we are in a dollar store and nothing in it is worth more than a loonie.

I am quite intrigued by certain points that were raised. The member made the statement that it is difficult for leaders to give away their authority. Having regard to that, I would invite my friend to comment on his leader's authority. Let us remember the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, who was elected to the House by the people in that riding and who made a statement that his leader did not like. His leader ignored the democratic process and removed the member from their party.

How does this enormous power of his leader to remove people from that caucus, when in fact that person was elected to the House under the banner of that party, reconcile with his stated position about leaders giving away their authority?

Questions on the Order Paper April 27th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.