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.