My hon. colleagues say the voters made a good choice; I thank them, and especially my constituents for their continued support. I want to assure them that I will do my very best to represent them well, as I have been doing for nearly ten years now.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for appointing me chief Government whip, a rather heavy responsibility considering the historic outcome of the elections.
Since October 25, 205 new members have arrived to sit on both sides of this House. Furthermore, two new parties have joined the mix, making it a difficult task to organize everything on Parliament Hill. With the co-operation of the other parties and of my colleagues, the Official Opposition whip and the Reform Party whip, I think a more civil tone has been adopted in this House and I hope that this can be maintained. That is what Canadians want. We have a House with 295 energetic men and women who want to make their views known. Given the fact that we sit opposite one another, we cannot liken our system to a round table meeting. At times, some animosity may surface, particularly during oral question period, but I think that every-
thing is going well so far and I hope that this continues to be the case. As chief Government whip I will try to set an example.
Everyone points to our famous red book and to the fact that during the election campaign, we made some very specific promises. From the moment the government was sworn in, the Prime Minister set the tone by slashing ministers' budgets and by following through on his first promise, namely to save $10 million per year. Immediately after taking this initiative the government cancelled the helicopter contract, as it had promised to do. It also carried out a number of other initiatives.
Not only the government, but all of us in this House have come up with a plan to cut $5 million a year in the expenses of the House of Commons. It is not much, a mere drop in a budget of $220 million a year, but this is just a beginning. In time, with your help on the Board of Internal Economy, Mr. Speaker, we will look for ways to make further savings. For the time being, we have a plan to save $5 million a year. The Board of Internal Economy has already adopted a certain number of measures and, hopefully, with the support of my colleagues, we will be able to go ahead with this plan at our next meeting.
As I said, we will continue to save a little here and there, not just for the sake of saving money, but to allow this place, this House, this Parliament Hill to be really operational and to adapt to a new reality, a new situation and new technology to be put in place. So, this is an important proposal, not only to cut expenses, but also to promote the efficiency of this place and allow us to represent our voters effectively, thereby sending the right message to our constituents.
This brings me to the subject of today's debate: parliamentary reform. I see my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the House Leader. We sat together on the Board of Internal Economy and now we both sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In the past, we have debated the issue of parliamentary reform at length in our committee and even in this House.
Now, just a hundred days or so after coming into office, the new government, the new House of Commons has put forward a motion on parliamentary reform, a rather important subject that we have already taken steps on, about ten days ago, when we adopted the new House of Commons Standing Committee format. Here is another measure relating to this reform to enable all members to speak to represent their constituents and their views.
Since 1984, I have had the honour and pleasure of sitting in this House as a member for nine years on the other side, and a few months on this side. But on one side or the other, there is one very important question that my colleagues and I have to ask ourselves in this debate today. We do not realize the implication of this change: to allow a bill to be referred to a committee after only a few hours of debate. This is a major change. I know that the Official Opposition mentioned it in their remarks, but this is of paramount importance.
Once this reform is implemented, every minister and hon. member will make a speech, but their time will be limited. We will not have the time previously provided for second reading.
How did we proceed in the past? Members on both sides of the House all made long speeches and took position and, when the bill was in committee, no one on either the government or the opposition side wanted to change their position. We would go through the same debate in committee and then, at the report stage, we would go over the same debate and the same amendments once again.
I think that the amendments proposed in this reform package will enable committee members from both sides of the House to look at bills and to invite witnesses and experts; they will then be able to go beyond preconceived ideas and to propose amendments to improve the bill.
If the bill is not valid and a lot of changes are made to its substance, I am confident that the government and its ministers will take this into account and withdraw the bill under consideration. This will make a real debate possible, unlike the shocking situation that prevailed in the past. We could spend hours, days and often weeks in the House on second reading of a bill. The debate in committee was just a formality since the government stuck to the position it had defended in the House at second reading and the opposition did the same thing.
I think that, for once, hon. members on both sides of the House have a real opportunity to make changes in committee and to improve legislation. That is the role of lawmakers, who must also put forward and review options, like the Minister of Human Resources Development who has just presented a motion to give committees the mandate to look at this whole important issue. Whether or not we agree with this approach, we had one or two days of debate to express our opinions and suggest ways to resolve problems, and all these options are now available to the committee.
Some members, especially in the Reform Party, may accuse us of not going far enough. There is the whole issue of free votes that has arisen since the opening of this Parliament. I can tell you that, as a whip, I consider all votes to be free.
Nowadays, it is unthinkable for a whip to tell members how to vote. That is just not done anymore. I think that members are free to vote as they wish. There are party positions, there is the question of leadership in each party and every one of us is big enough to face his or her responsibilities.
Many times in this House we have seen members decide to vote against their own party. Some regretted it, others are proud of it.
We must not say that is a small step; for me, it is a big step. Mr. Speaker, I hope-you are indicating to me that my time has expired-that with the co-operation of my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, who chairs the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we can look into the whole issue of electronic voting. That is very important.
We have already discussed this subject with my colleague, the chief opposition whip, and we are trying to have all votes held on Tuesday evening. The idea of voting on Tuesday and Wednesday evening is not bad; I think it would save time. That too is important. The members would all be here and while they are in the House, we could vote on several bills, one after the other, instead of always ringing the bells for fifteen or thirty minutes; and members could plan their schedules better.
I am glad that this reform will be implemented within a few days and I am sure that the House of Commons will be better for it.