Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion tabled by the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest, who represents the Reform Party.
It seems to me that this motion is somewhat premature, considering that the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members' Business, which is already looking at one aspect of this issue, has not yet tabled its report but will do so in the weeks to come. Be that as is may, the Reform Party elected to use its allotted day to raise this issue.
This is an important issue since it is directly related to the basic principles of Canadian democracy, parliamentary democracy, as well as representative democracy. In our written constitution, and more specifically the Constitution Act of 1867, the first whereas in the preamble reads as follows: "Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom".
Thanks to the constituting authority of 1867, namely the Parliament of Westminster, we have a written constitution as well as institutions, such as the House of Commons, which are, in their very essence, based on the same principle as the United Kingdom's institutions, which is democracy by representation. This means that members are elected for a mandate which, of course, is not fixed but lasts from four to five years, depending on the political situation. During that period, members are not directly accountable to their constituents.
This parliamentary representation was in effect for centuries, until the end of the last century. I should point out that governments and parliaments were so eager to show that their members indeed represented the public that they would not step down immediately after losing a general election. Instead, they would wait until a formal vote in the House of Commons put them in a minority position, at which time they would resign. Things greatly improved in the twentieth century and the process became much speedier, to the point that when governments now realize they no longer have the confidence of voters, they do not wait for a formal vote in the House of Commons to step down. So, there were some adjustments made, although the process was slow, of course.
I will come back to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest, but let me digress for a moment to mention that the readjustment of the electoral map is being debated in each and every province and is an issue of great concern for our voters. Public hearings on this matter are expected to be held.
As a member whose riding straddles two areas, the region of the National Capital, and by that I mean Quebec City, of course, and Eastern Quebec, let me point out that in Quebec in particular, one region stands to loose an elected representative with this bill. In fact, the riding of Matane will be incorporated into the constituency of Gaspé and my own riding of Bellechasse will see its population grow with the inclusion of nine new municipalities.
For example, in this map readjustment project, for most of the rural ridings, where in the past the number of voters was lowered to compensate for the vast territory-as was the case in my own riding of Bellechasse-this weight coefficient by which larger areas included less voters is not taken into consideration any more. This is an example of an issue which we could have debated, and on which petitions could easily have been presented. All we need to do is ask, and we would get many petitions to be tabled. I imagine that we could have a debate, if a reform like the one the Reform Party is talking about was accepted.
On the same subject, that is the readjustment of the electoral map pursuant to section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, why did we not use the appropriate constitutional provisions or petitions to deal with such important subjects as the representation of the Magdalen Islands, for example, which are a completely distinct entity under the present system? I think that we could have obtained consent pretty quickly for the Magdalen Islands to become a riding under section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, that is a riding in which there is a sufficient number of voters without having to include voters from the mainland. And that does not apply only to Quebec; it could be the same for the riding of Labrador.
I wanted to mention this in order to show that we are quite willing to comply with the democratic wishes of our fellow citizens.
As for the wording of the motion of the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest, it is obviously extremely vague since it gives examples such as serial killer cards, the Young Offenders Act, the recall of members of the House and I think I heard the mover of the motion talk about capital punishment in his speech.
I find it a bit unfortunate that members of this House would use a motion to amend the Standing Orders in order to bring back the issue of capital punishment, which was abolished in 1963. It has been more that 30 years since the last execution took place in our country. I find it a bit unfortunate that some people would want to introduce such an issue in this debate today when, as Quebecers and Canadians, we have shown our tolerance and, as a country, we have shown the world that it is not by killing people that we will teach Canadians that it is wrong to kill. This topic has been widely debated, and it would be a pity if, when foul crimes occur, often rousing public condemnation, people were rushed into signing petitions which under our rules would become votable immediately; this would be somewhat like a breathalyser or a heart-rate measuring device that prompts an immediate reaction when a peak is registered.
I think the parliamentary system has to handle situations with a deeper and more extensive consideration over a longer term, because in the heat of the moment, it is always easy to have people introduce motions and table petitions which, under terms that have not been specified, would become debatable and votable in this House. I have to introduce a note of caution, here, because I doubt the effectiveness of such a proposition over the long and medium term.
It should be understood also that the proposition being made comes within a certain policy framework. This one is about petitions, but it has to be related to other propositions made by the Reform Party about the recall of members of Parliament, probably about citizens' initiative for bills and of course about referenda, on which we generally agree since the great referendum in Quebec is expected soon, Mr. Speaker. You know better than anybody else that Quebecers will have the opportunity to vote on their national future.
Since the Charlottetown accord, it is established that, in constitutional matters, major changes will not be decided in a vacuum. No more dealings behind closed doors. No more rolling of the dice. Citizens will be consulted. What happened in 1992 is a clear indication at the federal level, for federal purposes. There should be no federal intrusion in provincial jurisdiction. The federal government should use public consultations on federal matters only. We will never accept consultations on matters that are not part of federal jurisdiction.
Our position has always been, and it has now been accepted that the future of Quebec should be decided by Quebec citizens under laws passed by the Quebec National Assembly and not under some federal law of this House. This is the fundamental right to self-determination. That right was recognized in the San Francisco Charter, which is the basis of the United Nations as we know them.
I would even add, Mr. Speaker, that the motion put before the House today has more in common with an election program than with a simple routine question, in the sense that during the election campaign, which ended on last October 25, the Reform Party suggested many of the reforms that are put before the House and on which Reform members asked questions to the Prime Minister and the government House leader. The answers were quite clear and precise. I believe the government said clearly that it would not allow free votes systematically, but rather on a selective basis.
Second, the government House leader clearly indicated that he really wanted questions raised by free votes to be examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We must also take that into account. The government has the political will to do things that way.
What the government has decided after the elections, I feel, is that profound changes will not be made during this Parliament.
The Reform Party may be putting forward a nice and interesting agenda when it speaks of people initiatives, the recall of Members of the House and other such initiatives, like petitions that can be debated as well as voted on. Unless the Reform Party is preparing for the elections that will precede the 36th Parliament, I do not see how changing or trying to change the Standing Orders will reverse a rather well established position by the government with which we can disagree but which was spelled loud and clear.
Oddly enough and unfortunately, the free vote advocates in the House have given us no example of free votes since the opening of the session. If I am not mistaken, none of my
colleagues from the Reform Party stood here to express a personal point of view, unless they always have the same personal point of view or those who share the same point of view stand at the same time. This is not my problem but the problem of the caucus of that party that has to live with its decisions. But I look forward to the day when the Reform caucus will not really reveal a split in its approach but rather allow expression of divergent views, when there will truly be an exchange of opinions on the floor of the House. But that is not what we see now. Perhaps they could give us a foretaste of this by debating freely a given bill. Perhaps they will announce it soon, but we have not seen it yet.
Of course, and I am happy to mention this to my distinguished colleague for Kingston and the Islands, the government has not given us either many examples of free votes in this House. We were told there would be free votes but none has been announced yet.