House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was reform.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 36% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

Madam Speaker, yes, I served as a committee chair for a number of years. I could put my hand on the Bible or any other document and assure the House that I never took an edict from the Prime Minister's Office. I suspect that the PMO thought that we were small fish in a very large pond and really did not care a heck of a lot about how I ruled at the committee meeting. I can assure the member that I never heard, saw or felt one edict from the Prime Minister's Office.

I remind the hon. member from Quebec, we are not talking about the old system any more. We are talking about a new system. I am saying to the Prime Minister and others, the old system is passé. We are now going to have an election of chairs and we as a caucus will decide who represents us as chairs on standing committees. Let us not worry about prime ministerial edicts any more, even though they did not exist in the past. We are certainly not going to worry about them in the future because the old system will not apply.

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

Madam Speaker, the answer is no. I want the election of the Speaker. I supported that change, but if I had my way I would have one nominee for Speaker from my party because who has chosen the Speaker since we have elected Speakers in the last 10 to 15 years? It has been the opposition.

I have been around here for 14 years. There was more than one candidate for Speaker from the Liberal side in one election. I was in support of one of the minority candidates and he won. Why did he win? For reasons beyond my comprehension, the opposition decided to coalesce and they supported my minority candidate from the Liberal side. Naturally the other side would favour a secret ballot so that they could perhaps do a little bit of coalescing or whatever so that they could get their choice.

We have an adversarial political system and it works quite well. In the last election, Canadians decided they would vote for a majority Liberal government. That means there is a majority of Liberal members on this side. What they said was for us to follow our agenda and leave the opposition to the opposition. I support that system. I support that system also when it comes to the election of chairs.

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

The best person, all right. I just heard a member from across the way talk about the best person. Of course that would be one of the criteria. Competence is very important.

The country has had federal governments since 1867. Since 1867 prime ministers have been making up their cabinets. One of the prime criteria for prime ministers is to take into account regional representation.

God forbid, if the day ever came that the opposition formed the government, I would bet that Saskatchewan Alliance MPs or Alberta MPs would want to be represented in cabinet. Does anyone think they would not want their provinces represented in cabinet? I do not think they would say, “Oh, no. We will just rely on competence. If it turns out that all of the competent members come from Quebec, that is fine. We do not care if we have a cabinet voice from Saskatchewan. We do not care if we have a voice from British Columbia”.

Who are they trying to kid? Whose leg are they trying to pull? That is an absolutely cruel joke. It is a fact of life that in our political life regional representation is extremely important. I happen to think that if we are going to have the election of chairs, we have to take that into account.

It is not surprising that I come from a region that is not as densely populated as the province of Ontario or the province of Quebec. All I want is my share.

What I want is a little more time to study this matter. If we have waited 135 years, I suspect we could wait another 15 sitting days so that we have a couple of opportunities to get this right. Once we make this change, it will be made for a long time. Sure we can fine-tune it down the road. In fact, I would not mind this kind of approach being tested for perhaps a year or two. I want to make sure in the early days of this that we do our homework, that we address the questions and concerns that have to be addressed.

I support the amendment to the motion. Let us take a little more time and get this right.

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

Madam Speaker, I think we can have a civil debate about this. After all, this is about democracy. I think we have listened to the opposition members and their concerns. We are not taking anything away from them in that regard.

It is important in this adversarial system, and what we have is an adversarial system, if we on this side feel that the opposition has put forward something that perhaps is not factual, we have a right and a responsibility to respond.

We are not talking about the old system anymore. We are now talking about a new system of electing chairs. The question before the House really is how do we elect chairs? One way is by secret ballot and another way is openly. I support the open system.

I also want the various caucuses to choose their nominees for caucus chairs. I do not want the Prime Minister's Office to make that decision. I do not want the whip to make that choice. I do not want the House leader to make that choice. I want our caucus to make its nominations.

I would imagine when it comes to the Alliance that the caucus members would like to make their choices as opposed to their leader doing it. I am sure the same thing applies to the Bloc, to the Conservative Party and to the New Democratic Party.

Let us not get things mixed up. We are not talking about the old system any more. We are talking about a new system.

Let me again get to the question of referring this matter back to committee for only 15 sitting days. Is that a long time? We have had the old system since 1867. I suppose we could wait another 15 working days so that perhaps we could make some effort to make it right.

I submit that there are concerns and questions that will arise from this new system which we are going to embrace. We are going to embrace it but does the House not think that we should take some time, in this case 15 sitting days, to answer some of the questions and respond to some of the concerns that come out of electing committee chairs?

For example, I will tell the House, I will tell my constituents, I will tell all Canadians that I want within our own Liberal caucus some kind of very responsible nomination system. When we went to a standing committee meeting to elect a chair there would be one Liberal nominee. There would be one, not two, not three, not four. All Liberals within our own caucus would have some say in who would be a chair of a particular standing committee. I cannot think of a more democratic way.

There is another reason I want some time to think about this. I do not know whether the opposition caucuses do, but we do not have any system inside our caucus to consider representation from the regions.

I am from the west. I am a proud westerner. There are quite a few standing committee chairs. Under this new system I want the west to have some opportunity to have some of those committee chairs. To use the old jargon, all I want is our share. I would bet that my colleagues from Atlantic Canada want their share. Ontario does not have to worry as much. Ontario has a huge number of members. God bless them and I thank them for being here.

This is Canada after all. We are a diverse country. We are a country of many regions. We are a country of many different parts. Surely if we are going to make any effort to draw up the committees in a fair and just way, we have to take regional representation into account, gender into account and perhaps some other things into account as well.

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

Madam Speaker, the system that we have used for now has come under attack. It is not a perfect system. It is false to argue that we are now wanting to continue on with the old system which maintains the prerogative of the Prime Minister's Office to name chairs. We are not fighting about that any more. We are fighting about how we elect chairs.

Let me talk about the old system for a moment. To some extent it has reflected the diversity of Canada reasonably well, at some times better than at others, but it has. For example, at the time the House recently prorogued, there were 12 chairs from Ontario, 2 from Quebec, 3 from Atlantic Canada and 3 from the west. Is that perfect? No, it is not perfect, but we could see that there was an attempt for some regional representation. Of the chairs, 16 were men and 4 were women. That is not a fair representation of gender, but at least we could see there was an attempt in that direction. I am not suggesting this is a perfect reflection, but there is some diversity.

By moving to a system of secret ballots to elect committee chairs, we could be putting all that at risk. What are the risks implicit in reducing the transparency of our procedures in favour of greater secrecy? Once started, where does it lead us? It sounds a bit outrageous, but would we be hearing members of the opposition asking for secret ballots in the House? I do not think so.

I want to talk about the secret ballot because the opposition mixes two points that do not match. Yes, we do have the secret vote in general elections. Why do we have secret votes in general elections? Because at one time, early on in our democratic systems here in Canada and elsewhere, there was concern with an open system that there would be reprisals from the state, or if not from the state then from the powers that be.

It was agreed a long time ago that out of this fear of reprisal from the state that the electors would have the opportunity to cast their ballots in secret. It was the right way to go. All democrats believe in that. However, that principle does not hold when it comes to transacting public business at a standing committee. Electing a chair is public business and the public has a right to know how I vote.

The good constituents of Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia sent me here 14 years ago and they want to know how I vote. They want to know exactly how I transact and how I am involved in the public business. They do not want me voting secretly for chairs of standing committees. That is why I am opposed to the secret ballot when it comes to electing chairs.

The hon. member for Brandon—Souris talked about the open system and how it is flawed because there is intimidation from the Prime Minister's Office. Under the old system there might have been that consideration. There might have been that fear of some intimidation from the Prime Minister's Office. But we are not talking about the old system. We are talking about a new system that will be--

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion, which calls for secret votes in selecting chairmen of standing committees. We also have an amendment which, in effect, would send the motion back to the house affairs committee for 15 working days. I can say off the top that I support the amendment.

Let me begin by making an observation about the motion itself. On the surface it appears very attractive. After all, the secret ballot is one of the most hallowed elements of our democratic system. Most people would agree with that. We use it when we select those who will represent us in the federal, provincial and municipal orders of government. We use it when we select leaders of our political parties, and frequently it is used in selecting officers for our professional, labour and voluntary sector organizations.

I guess one could ask: Why would we not extend this principle to members of the House of Commons? As the motion is written, with or without the amendment, we are faced with the possibility of what political theorists term the tyranny of the majority. Simply put, it means that whatever the majority wants becomes law. We should forget about minorities, they do not count.

In this context it could mean that we might end up with a system where all the committee chairs are from Ontario. I have nothing against Ontario or Ontarians. We have 101 Ontarians in our Liberal caucus and they are all great people. However there are some other criteria that we must take into account in this democratic systems of ours. I want to ask my friends across the way in the Alliance, the Conservative Party and in the Bloc, whether they would want to run the risk of facing the tyranny of the majority?

What of our current success in responding to the need to fully include women in important roles? Over the past many years that has become important. Might this go by the boards as well? What of the need to have chairs representing under-represented groups such as aboriginal Canadians and visible minorities? Do they not count when it comes to selecting chairs? Might this too be sacrificed by caving in to the tyranny of the majority? That is a worthwhile question to ask.

I believe that our committee chairs have, to a great extent--

Committees of the House October 31st, 2002

Madam Speaker, I am accustomed to bluster and bombast around here but I must say that I find sanctimony rather suffocating.

The hon. member for Brandon--Souris is complaining about the amendment to the motion, which would send this matter back to committee. He somehow thinks that is wrong.

I do not know. Maybe he is arguing that the tyranny of the minority is the right thing to do. The committee is one small portion of the House. We have a larger body called the House of Commons. If the House passes the motion, the amendment to the motion simply says that this matter should go back to committee for further study. Is that somehow anti-democratic? Are we supposed to be held hostage by whatever opinion is brought forward by a standing committee of the House? Come on.

The hon. member raises another matter. He says that all they want to do is put their views forward publicly. What have we been hearing from the opposition members for the last several days? I would think their view has been expressed rather loudly, rather stridently and rather forcefully, and there is nothing wrong with that in a democracy. Please do not tell me that they have not been expressing themselves publicly.

He also says that, under this motion if it were to be passed, all he wants is for members to be allowed to stand up and be heard. Yet this member wants us to vote in secret. On the one hand he says to stand up and be counted, but please let me vote secretly. To me the two do not match.

We were sent here to be accountable. I cannot think of anything more accountable than standing up and voting so that people know exactly how we have voted. I would like to ask the hon. member for Brandon--Souris, if he wants to stand up and be heard, why would he ask to vote secretly so that no one would ever know for sure exactly how he votes?

Supply October 29th, 2002

Madam Speaker, the current system of order in council appointments can be improved. Anything can be improved around here, but after listening to the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I do not want to go backwards. I do not want to make things worse.

Let us look at the amendment to the motion. What does the amendment call for? It calls for order in council appointees, before the process is finalized, to be brought before House of Commons committees to be raked over the coals. That is exactly what would happen. They would be raked over the coals by the opposition, which would be looking for any possible thing with which to denigrate the appointees. Someone might have been in a car accident 30 years ago. Heaven knows, somebody might have had a baby out of wedlock. Somebody might have smoked a joint sometime in the past and the opposition would turn it into a scandal.

Look at what has happened in Congress. About 10 years ago, we had the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas fiasco in the Senate. As well, former president Clinton tried to appoint a particular woman for attorney-general. It turned out she did not pay for some unemployment insurance premiums for a babysitter and down she went. She had to be disapproved. Then of course the Democrats got into a tit-for-tat situation. It was payback time. When Bush tried to appoint a particular woman for labour secretary she had to be blown away by the Democrats. Again I think it was because she did not pay some unemployment insurance premiums.

That is the kind of situation we would have if we had order in council appointees brought before committees. In other words, the system would be politicized, and the last thing we need around here is even more politics. We have to give the administration some facility, some room, to do the job properly.

I defy anyone to suggest that our deputy ministers are any worse than their counterparts in the United States, that our judges are any worse than their counterparts in the United States, and in fact, as far as I am concerned, than in any country around the world. The last thing we need is this kind of politicization.

Health Care System October 28th, 2002

Mr. Speaker, my friend from Calgary has a point. Perhaps we should compare our system more often with that of Britain, France, Germany or one of the Scandinavian countries. I will allow my friend from Calgary that point, but the fact is we live beside this behemoth called the United States of America. It does not have the kind of health care system that we have. It has privatization.

Canadians, and those who support our health care system, must always be on guard. There are always voices who preach privatization. It is interesting to note that many of those voices are in the Canadian Alliance. They are the ones who would love to have a two tier system. They would like to have more privatization.

It is the responsibility of the members on this side to remind Canadians over and over again that we cannot have truck or trade with privatization because we run the risk of having a system closer to that of the United States and that will never do.

Health Care System October 28th, 2002

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member has touched on a very important matter and some of what she says I think is true. There is no doubt that in a country of this size and of this population there are inequities with respect to health care. There is an uneven distribution of health services.

If one lives in downtown Toronto, one perhaps may be just down the road from Sunnybrook Hospital. If one lives in my riding, there is a great hospital called Grace General Hospital. In fact, from my home I could drive to the Grace Hospital in perhaps two minutes. Do I have greater accessibility to nearby service than someone who lives way up in northern Manitoba at Norway House or Pukatawagan? Of course. Can the system be improved in that regard? Yes, and I am hoping that someone like Roy Romanow can address that very issue.

Will the playing field be level for all 31 million Canadians, whether they live in Rimouski, in Sept-Iles, in Olds, Alberta, in Kamloops, British Columbia, or in Wawanesa, Manitoba? I do not think so. Can we do a better job than we are doing now? I hope so, and I hope someone like Roy Romanow will provide some of the answers.