House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Conservative MP for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply October 2nd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I just want to follow up on the member's last remarks.

Is there not a danger in this type of regime--in fairness to the government were it to go for this proposal--in times of shortage when federal revenues are tight and if we have dedicated revenues going to the municipalities, that something like SARS might come up, or there might be a terrorist attack, or there might be an enormous blackout that would suddenly require the government to spend there rather than fulfill its commitment to the municipalities?

Would the member agree that under such a circumstance, whatever accord we come to here, the government should set its priorities according to the emergencies of the day and withdraw the spending from the municipalities if indeed there are higher priorities because of the contingencies of the times?

Supply October 2nd, 2003

Madam Speaker, just very quickly, in this motion, is there not a problem associated with the fact that any money that is dedicated from the federal government, that is taken out of taxes, is essentially the same thing that was done with Ontario and the rest of the country with health care, where the Mulroney government gave money to the provinces from the tax revenue and the federal government subsequently lost control of that money? Is this not precisely the same situation if we give the money to municipalities, then in one way or another the federal government loses control of that money?

Supply September 30th, 2003

Madam Speaker, voter turnout is poor because the Liberals have been so successful and the opposition have been such a failure.

We have a range of opinions here. We can get everything on this side that we do not need the opposition. That is why I think we do not--

Supply September 30th, 2003

Madam Speaker, the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle is an experienced member and he knows his history. When prime ministers or party leaders refuse to sign nomination papers, there is a great possibility that the person will still run and succeed as an independent or switch to another party.

The reality is that because of the constituency system any leader has to be careful. If an individual MP is very popular in his constituency, because he has done a good job, then that MP cannot be wished away as easily as someone failing to sign his nomination papers.

As for appointed candidates, the record on appointed candidates is pretty clear too. They do not tend to last very long. The prime minister or party leader can appoint candidates but so often they do not survive for very many elections. On the other hand, if someone is genuinely grassroots in our constituency system then watch out.

Supply September 30th, 2003

Madam Speaker, I just made the observation that medicare and all those other fine things that the member mentioned were brought in because the Liberals supported them. This was the will of the Liberals. It was not just the NDP by any means.

As far as the cabinet is concerned, I go back to my original point that this type of parliamentary system we have works on confidence. The government is in power based on the confidence it can maintain on the backbench and it has to walk very carefully because the backbench can always turn back and derive support from its constituencies. Whereas if the cabinet and the leadership were able to control the backbench by controlling who would get to sit on the backbench, the power of cabinet would be incredibly enhanced.

I really do not understand why the member cannot put two and two together on this issue except that there probably is a problem of hopelessness sitting tight to the back corner of this chamber, having less than a dozen members. I would think that would give anyone a headache.

Supply September 30th, 2003

Madam Speaker, fiddle-faddle. I guess my best response is. First, I just described how the Prime Minister has not been able to control keeping members from speaking out in the House. He cannot stop us because we have the support of our constituencies. If the member feels he is not representing his constituents, that is his problem.

I have voted against the government, I think seven times. It was long before it became popular to vote against the government. I have never been disciplined as a result. As long as we here in this House, we act according to our best judgment. I have never had a problem on this side.

As far as free votes are concerned, free votes for everyone would be anarchy. It shows the naivety of that side. I have watched them for 10 years. I have not seen free votes on that side. There are far more free votes on this side. There has to be some form of party discipline because if we did not have party discipline, we would have anarchy.

However if we had proportional representation, the discipline would be so close that any independence would be destroyed. I would have thought that the member would have focused on that rather than focusing on a system that, as far as I can see, is actually working quite well.

Supply September 30th, 2003

The members are cheering and that is exactly the point. The people who press for proportional representation are always the hopeless minor parties in any Parliament. It is because it is the only way they can have a say and actually influence what happens in the House. It is because then they have five or ten members of a party that could be a party of social left or right. It could be a party of religion or it could be a party of this or that and it is that balance of power that could actually drive the agenda of the entire House, the entire Parliament, the entire country.

I submit that history and the world are replete with examples of why that is bad for a nation. Italy alone has had countless parliaments, one after another since the second world war. There is always the opportunity of minor parties forming, four or five individuals, who could affect the outcome of major debates in the House.

Therefore we have the situation that rather than deploring the fact that our particular system tends to generate majority government, we should be applauding it. We do not have to take any instructions from Europe or elsewhere in the world. We are the model for the world because it is eminently evident that the most stable democracies in the world, Canada, the United States and Great Britain, have the same type of constituency representation that Canada uses. Certainly in the case of the United States and Canada, these are huge countries and yet we have the best democracies and we are admired around the world.

So, no, we do not have to look to other experiments that basically have failed. As the former Indian affairs minister said, “Canada is a country that does work in practice”. It may not fit the arm chair theories of academics and parties on the fringe but Canada works and it works the way we do it now.

Supply September 30th, 2003

Madam Speaker, a former Indian affairs minister, Ron Irwin, had a great expression that caught my attention one day and I have never forgotten it. He said “Canada is a country that should not work in theory, that Canada is a country that works in practice”. I think that is a very appropriate remark in the context of proportional representation, because proportional representation seems to make so much sense.

The idea is that people cast their ballots for a particular party, and when those ballots are counted, the leader of their various parties gets to name to this House, to Parliament, the number of members of Parliament that match the percentage of popular vote that his particular party got. Indeed, it makes so much sense that if we put that question to a referendum across the country, most assuredly people would probably support it because it seems very commonsensical that in a democracy, the makeup of this House should exactly reflect the will of the population.

However it is like so many things. What seems simple to the people at large, when one has experience in this House, one realizes that the working of democracy is much more complicated than that. In fact our system, the system that we operate under, which is a constituency system in which Canada is divided into 301 territories across the land, each politician has to run in that particular territory and has to get a popular vote in that territory. Of course the result is, as we know, that often there is quite a disparity between the number of MPs that a party returns and the percentage vote that party gets. What we do know is the system we have tends to return majority governments rather than constant minority governments, which is the case with proportional representation.

I guess my most fundamental objection to proportional representation is the power it gives to the leader. What we have there is a situation where the leader has absolute power over the members of his party, so when the election is finished, the leader gets to name the individuals who will serve in this House.

Now, Madam Speaker, I know you are liable to react in a very peculiar way when I assert this, but I am a living example of why proportional representation does not work. It does not work for those MPs who might want to have an independent voice in this House and still be a member of a particular party, a maverick MP. If I can indulge your attention for just a little, Madam Speaker, I will tell the story of my own election in 1993.

In 1993 it was the end of the Mulroney era and there was a lot of feeling against the Tories of the day. That was also the era of the Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accord. I was a journalist on leave of absence, working on a book on a military subject. I had just finished work on the book when the Charlottetown accord came up. I broke from my work and studied the Charlottetown accord. I was absolutely appalled by what I read about the accord because what I thought would occur was there would be such an erosion of federal power, the whole Charlottetown accord was going to give a lot more power to the provinces, that I felt Confederation could not possibly work.

As a former journalist, that is one business or one profession in which one is not allowed to mix partisan politics, so I had never in my entire career had anything to do with partisan politics for any party. Nevertheless, at the time of the Charlottetown accord, or shortly thereafter, Mr. Mulroney was about to call the election. On impulse, I went in and put my name in for the nomination for the Liberals in my local riding.

It was an impulse and my kids said “Oh, Dad, you don't want to be a politician”. My wife said “Oh, I don't want that, I've got enough problems”. Nevertheless, it was a gesture. I did not know anyone in the riding association nor anyone in the Liberal Party but I knew that on nomination night I would stand up and make a brief speech about how I deplored the Charlottetown accord, and especially the fact that the Liberals were so tame as to get on side with the Tories on the Charlottetown accord. After I did my little speech I knew I would sit down and that would be the end of it.

There were three other candidates for the nomination and they were out selling memberships and all those kinds of things. However I had no idea that the process involved selling memberships. I was a complete neophyte. At any rate, I just sat back until nomination day approached and suddenly all the other candidates for the nomination quit and a new person appeared on the scene. He was actually a former active Tory member but he had lined up with the Liberals.

When I went to the other candidates and asked them why they had suddenly quit they said “well, we had to quit because this other guy, this latecomer, has the backing of the leader of the party”, the now Prime Minister. He has the backing of the local Liberal Party machine. He had everything so they quit.

Well, I am not much of a quitter. I do tend to hang in there. Shortly after that happened, the riding association had a meet the candidates meeting. I had never met any member of the riding association up until that time. It was held in the basement of the local town hall. I went along to at least explain to the riding association why I wanted to be a candidate and all this stuff about the Charlottetown accord.

I arrived there and all these strange people were sitting at a big table and around the room. This was the riding association executive, I learned later. I did not know who they were and there were a few other people in the audience. I stood up and made my little speech but in the middle of my speech this other guy, this other important candidate, came in along the back of the room.

I had never had this experience before but we all are practised politicians here, and I am sure you, Madam Speaker, have had an occasion where you have been speaking and thinking at the same time. Sometimes it has peculiar results here but, nevertheless, there I was talking and this guy came in with signs already printed. He did not even have the nomination but his signs were printed. They were all clapping and cheering and all these kinds of things. I was a little put out but I finished my speech and sat down. This guy stood up in his turn to great applause and all the rest of it. What he basically said was that he had been approached many times by the Liberal Party leadership in the area riding to run as a candidate for the nomination but that he had always held back because there was another possible candidate who might come forward for the nomination. He was alluding to the then mayor of the city of Hamilton and the then president of the local university. Then he said the fatal words. He said that late last week he had learned that those two important people had dropped out, that they were not going to stand for the nomination and that because there were no other worthy candidates he allowed his name to stand.

Well, I waited for him out in the corridor. He came out with his crowd and all the signs. I shook his hand and I said “Meet your unworthy opponent”.

I was born in town but I lived in a rural village for 30 years. Even though I commuted back and forth to Toronto for my journalist job, I had lived in the village for a very long time and knew a lot of farming folk. My wife was a local librarian in two places. The upshot of this is that when the nomination meeting occurred this guy was out there with his machine. He had everything. He had the signs printed and he had the buses. He had the whole thing going. He had all the money in the world. All I had were the local people.

Nomination night was held in an armoury in one of the towns in my riding. His people were on one side of the hall and my people were on the other side of the hall. To make a story short, despite all his power and the fact that he was being backed by the Liberal Party machine, I beat him and I am here today.

The reason I told that story is that throughout my career as a member of Parliament in the House I have never taken one dime from the party nor have I asked for one favour from the leader, and I have always spoken my mind in the House. The point is that if the leader were upset with me for speaking my mind and expressing myself, he would have to contend with the fact that I have support in my riding. I am not beholden only to the leader. I am beholden to the grassroots people who brought me to this place.

If we were to have proportional representation, people like me would disappear. Naturally all leaders, no matter how open they are or how much they might want to democratize the House, the reality is that if a leader gets to choose all the MPs in the House, then inevitably we would not have the kind of dialogue that occurs in the House. We would not have the kind of independent speaking out that occurs among Liberals on this side of the House and, perhaps more rarely, on the opposition benches, because I have to note that my experience in 10 years here is that in fact there is a tendency in opposition to conform to the will of the leadership. Whereas here, as we see time and time again and as a matter of fact is becoming a bit too common in my opinion, we see Liberal backbenchers expressing very independent thoughts. Sometimes they do not vote with the government.

It is relevant, even now, because we are in a period where we are about to change leaders in the Liberal Party. A very instructive and very important part of our democratic process is that the Prime Minister, the leader, has to hold his side together based on the confidence the members have in him. That confidence is a delicate balance between his ability to summon their allegiance based on the policies that he has and also their obligation to their constituents. All that disappears with proportional representation.

For those who complain about party discipline being too much, if we were to have proportional representation party discipline would be absolute.

There are other problems with proportional representation and some of these are very obvious. I should point out that our constituency system has worked well for 136 years, give or take a year, and has held together a country that is 10% larger than the United States--I believe it is the second largest country in the world--and has 10% of the people. We are spread out all over the country.

I would submit that we cannot compare our system, which obviously works and has worked for such a long time over this huge land mass, with a system that might be used by Israel or Italy. Either of those countries could form one-quarter of one constituency that we have in this country. The present Indian affairs minister is fond of reminding people that his particular riding is the size of France.

One of the things about having ridings and constituencies is that not only are we loyal to the party but we become loyal to not just the people in our constituency but to the concept of that corner of Canada that we represent.

When I first came here in 1993 we had a day of debate in which every MP had the opportunity to describe his or her riding. It was marvellous. It gave us a sense of who and what this country really is, because each MP bragged about the beauties or the unique characteristics of his or her corner of Canada.

In my particular riding I have seven waterfalls, which is probably more waterfalls than any other riding in the country. I can go on. When we go around this room we find that each member of Parliament celebrates the character of this country by representing a particular constituency.

All that would disappear with proportional representation because the leader can take members from anywhere. He can take members based on wealth. He can take members based on some sort of demographic profile. In other words, the people are marginalized in the final selection of the candidate.

Then we would get this terrible problem of what actually would happen in the House and what happens so often in countries like Italy or Israel. The reality is that in most democratic debates opinion divides roughly evenly. We saw that rather famously recently when on a motion by the opposition on upholding the traditional definition of marriage the House split on one vote, 134 to 134. It then split 137 to 135, I think it was, on the next vote.

That is a classic example of what happens all the time in proportional representation where major parties sit facing one another and very small minor parties hold the balance of power.

In that particular vote that I just described, the two smallest parties in the House, the New Democrats and the Tories, could have affected the outcome of either of those votes.

Unite the Right September 26th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I was delighted to read this morning that negotiations to unite the right are proceeding at pace. Certainly Canadians would be better served if there were a viable opposition in the House of Commons, a voice that could criticize constructively.

So far, and I do not want you to take this as a criticism, Mr. Speaker, both the leader of the Canadian Alliance and the leader of the Conservatives have failed miserably.

But there is hope. Waiting outside with his chauffeur is former Ontario premier, Mike Harris.

Well, as an Ontario Liberal MP I cannot think of anyone I would rather see lead a united right. Considering his track record in Ontario, if Mr. Harris is over there, we will be over here leading the country for a very long time yet to come.

John Munro September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to inform the House of the passing away this summer of one of its own, former health, labour and Indian affairs minister and great Canadian, the Hon. John Munro.

For 22 years Mr. Munro sat in this place as the representative of the people of Hamilton East, serving with distinction in the portfolios assigned to him by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, but most of all serving Canadians and especially aboriginal Canadians with all his heart.

Mr. Munro was also very much a grassroots politician, of a kind that we rarely see today, and was ever mindful of his constituents. He looked to improve their lives by bringing opportunities to the city of Hamilton, the steel town that he loved. McMaster Health Sciences, the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, these are but two world class institutions that are part of the Munro legacy in Hamilton.

Well done, John. Well done.