House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was constitutional.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 1997, with 42% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Lord Byng Secondary School March 17th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, next Monday, March 20, a group of talented young musicians from Lord Byng Secondary School in my riding of Vancouver Quadra will offer a noon hour concert in the Hall of Honour from 12 noon to 12.45 p.m. Their performance on Parliament Hill is part of a millennium tour across Canada organized by the group for March 16 to March 24.

I invite all members to drop by and take part in this special concert by one of Canada's finest secondary school orchestras.

House Of Commons March 16th, 2000

I have every confidence in the office of the Speaker of the House. He must exercise his authority with confidence. He has the skills and he must be encouraged to exercise his powers. Up to now the Chair has had a self-censuring attitude. This has been going on for several decades unfortunately, but that can be changed.

House Of Commons March 16th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made some very thoughtful comments. I think there has been a very marked decline in parliament since we were both elected in the class of 1993. I think a lot of this relates to the unexpected but foreseeable consequences of televising the House. This has put an accent on question period which has changed very markedly from the traditional role of question period to a form of most interesting and exciting soap opera. However, it has taken away attention from the debates.

When I attended as a scholar in earlier years, the debates were interesting and lively and, by the way, there was much participation. I think that is something to consider. A logical development of this would have been to invest the committees with more power, to follow the way of the French or the American committees. I think this is a reform that has been in waiting for perhaps 50 years because we have been concentrating on other things.

I would have one comment, though, on committees. The committee on the clarity bill was a legislative committee. Once it is a legislative committee it is within the domain of the Speaker to exercise a certain degree of guidance over the conduct of the committee. I am told that the Speaker's powers have not really changed, even with the rules, but by custom they have been allowed to fall in abeyance. I think there would be a good disposition in the House to encourage the Speaker, whomever the incumbent is, to exercise those inherent powers of the office more fully and not to succumb to this loose parliamentary practice where, in a sense, the House sometimes seems to be conducting its own Rafferty rules.

I know, Mr. Speaker, you have had some vexation with this and it might be a lesson from this debate to use your powers. You would have the encouragement and support of the House to do that.

House Of Commons March 16th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, this has been a very interesting morning, as several speakers have suggested.

I compliment the members of the Progressive Conservative Party for voluntarily conceding their opposition day on a matter that is of great concern to them, to debate a motion which I believe they and other parties will not be supporting.

In a certain sense, one is reminded of Nelson Mandela's principle of healing and reconciliation after periods of great intellectual torment and turbulence such as we have experienced. It has been an experience to go through those exhausting hours of debate overnight. It is in a way a trial by ordeal. Many members of this parliament have been through it three times in the last three years. The issue that must of course arise is, can we not do better.

You have been a very indulgent presiding officer, Mr. Speaker, on a matter affecting your privileges and the privileges of the House as an institution. You could have restricted the debate by applying criteria of relevance but you have, sir, if I may say so, shown great generosity in allowing the debate to sometimes stray.

Allow me, though, on the most immediate technical point to make one statement that I think should be on the record. We have an enormous respect for the technical staff attached to the office of the Speaker. These people are not appointed on the basis of ideology or political preference. They are career people. They are professionals. They are technocrats. They serve the Speaker. They will serve your successor whenever that time comes and they will serve no matter what government is in office. I think that should be on record. The Speaker's staff is an extension of the Speaker himself.

Many Speakers are not constitutional lawyers. There is no reason why they should be. They do not necessarily have a great knowledge of parliamentary precedents. The staff supply that detailed knowledge, the history. It is for the Speaker to decide how to use the history. But without that staff, the Speaker could not function. I think it is agreed on all sides that the office of the Speaker, the technical staff, are beyond any reproach and we all have enormous confidence in them.

History has been referred to here. You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, in a moment of passing humour, referred to people losing their heads, your predecessors in that office. That was at a fairly early time. I am reminded of the comment of the great Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that it is revolting to have no better justification for a present day position than that so it was in the time of Henry II. These are old precedents and we have to review history creatively as something that develops.

The office of Speaker has changed. There is certainly a great difference between the office of Speaker in the pre-modern period, which I suppose could take us up to the time of King James I, and the period afterward. The notion of a contest between the Speaker and the government of the realm is out of date. It was surpassed by the economic and social developments, the English civil war which was a battle between two rival elites, the passing of power from the aristocratic group to the landed gentry, still to be continued later on. The precedents from that era have to give way to the modern office of Speaker and the modern parliament. Today parliament is vastly different from what it was before the Hanoverian kings came into Great Britain and before the system of cabinet government developed and responsible democracy. When Dicey speaks of the sovereignty of the king-in-parliament, he is speaking of parliament as an institution, the government, but the Speaker is a part of that.

This is recognized in the further legitimacy given to your office, Mr. Speaker, by the principle of election, which, as we all know, is very recent in this country. I think it only goes back to your immediate predecessor. However, the extra legitimacy is there to invest you with powers as part of the whole constitutional system of the country.

What Dicey referred to as the thing that makes work the new modern parliament and the modern system of checks and balances within it, was the observance of the parliamentary constitutional rules of game within parliament by opposition and by government. The minority has its rights but so does the majority and the Speaker's function is there to see that the business of the country is not unnecessarily delayed or obstructed. There is a judgment call here that he has to exercise.

As I said, in the last three years of this parliament there have been three different occasions of these marathon all-night sittings that certainly exhaust members and, continued indefinitely, might certainly do worse than that. If there can be 400 amendments to a bill of two or three pages and two or three clauses, then why not 4,000 or 40,000? So we are getting into a very practical issue.

It is interesting to note that other parliaments than our own have changed their procedure. In some ways the pre-emptive concern since the quiet revolution with Quebec issues has obscured the task of modernization and updating of parliamentary institutions and parliamentary processes and we have lagged behind.

I referred in another context a couple of days ago to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington . Jimmy Stewart, the great actor, spoke 22 hours in a filibuster to hold up what he thought was an ignoble project. They cannot do that any more in the United States Congress.

Just imagine Mrs. Thatcher's Britain or Clement Atlee's Britain. The House of Commons in Great Britain, from which we derive our inspiration if no longer our binding precedents, functions differently today.

We have passed the stage of the Victorian gentlemen's club of the late 19th century when parliament debated two or three bills a year sometimes. We are into hundreds of pieces of legislation and everybody has to understand that. The parliamentary rules need re-adjustment, and the Speaker in the same way, in a creative, progressive interpretation of history, interprets his lot in that way. I find in this sense that what we have done in the last week is unproductive and uncreative.

If one asks “Does the Speaker not have inherent powers in relation to amendments and legislation?”, the answer is yes. Every piece of legislation, every amendment, is scrutinized in terms of its grammatical accuracy. It is scrutinized in terms of the congruence of the French and the English languages.

I believe also, Mr. Speaker, although I have never asked you about this point, that you exercise a prudent control over what might be called the bowdlerization of the language or inappropriate expressions within it. Is it not within the power of the Speaker to control what he might consider redundant, superfluous or trivial amendments? Can we have an amendment to an amendment? I will not say this in relation to the debate on the clarity bill, but on the Nisga'a bill we had amendments replacing a semicolon with a colon. Surely we are at the point where the functioning of the modern parliament and the role of the Speaker requires the Speaker to use powers, to consult with the technical officers of the staff and, if necessary, to use his discretion to strike out certain measures.

This is not uttered, though, as a criticism of the conduct of all the participants of the great debate of the last few days. As we have all said, there was great feeling in many parts of the House and it is possible that some or all of the main actors might act differently if they were doing it again. Nevertheless, I think the spirit of this motion and the way in which this debate has emerged would be to allow all parties, in the calm and healing spirit after the debate, to consider seriously ways of modernizing our procedures and ways of supporting the Speaker in the constructive use of his inherent, prerogative powers. Can we not do it differently?

I would have hoped that a more constructive measure would be to have somebody, whether it is the committee on procedure and House affairs, come back with suggestions for avoiding these marathon debates; come back perhaps as they have done, I think under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, with the all-party committee that selects private members' bills for giving priority; to come up with suggestions that would aid the Speaker in saying to people who are sponsoring legislation or sponsoring a great mass of amendments to be reasonable and to consider also the rights of all parliamentarians and the country to have business adopted in an expeditious way. Can we not agree on this? I would hope there would be attention to this.

It occurs to me that not everybody has used the facilities available. It amazed me with the Nisga'a treaty, for example, when I was faced with a unanimous report of an all-party parliamentary committee, that we would then later have a marathon debate in parliament. The whole notion of committees was that parliament would delegate responsibility to the committees and then would trust the committees and respect their judgment. Could this have been done with the clarity bill?

We had an extensive debate in December. Was a legislative committee necessary? It is these sorts of matters that now can be approached by all parties.

We should stress that what emerged in all parties, and I think also with our colleagues in the Bloc, was a recognition of your office, Mr. Speaker, its own privileges and a respect for the conduct of the office and the conduct of parliamentary officials. We have trust in the institution of the Speaker. We have confidence in the officers, including the staff members.

The constructive thing coming out of this debate is the concession by all the parties in the House to suspend, with the consent of the Conservatives, their day in parliament, which was to be today, to get on to this issue; and you, sir, to allow a larger debate on the conduct of parliament, which much transcends the technical issue in this motion. That would be the constructive lesson to draw from all of this.

House Of Commons March 16th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Following the constitutional law of parliament, it would only be competent for the mover and seconder of the motion to consider withdrawing it. There is no issue of delegation of powers to other members.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession Reference March 13th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-20 has been charged by opposition members as being arbitrary, a constitutional voie de fait, goodness knows what other charges. This is very surprising. I will repeat what I had the pleasure of saying in a public forum organized by the member of parliament for Markham and presided over by ex-premier Bob Rae, that the revolutionary aspect of this bill is that the federal government by legislation voluntarily limits its prerogative, executive powers.

There is no question that in 1980 when the first referendum arose there was no right under constitutional law or international law for a province unilaterally to secede. There was no right at all.

The issue of what was a clear question and a clear majority, I could remind the hon. member for Macleod who referred to this earlier, was discussed very fully at that time, and it has been around.

When the supreme court came into the picture it was because there was a plethora of individual suits before individual judges of the Canadian judicial system. The federal government had several options. One was to challenge the constitutional standing to sue of the individual litigants, which I think technically, in legal terms, might have been the better course. The other was to go ahead, and the supreme court has rendered an advisory opinion, which is not of course legally binding on the federal government.

What we have in Bill C-20 therefore is what European Union jurists have rightly hailed as a rather surprising evolution in the rules as to self-determination going well beyond the European Union's own rules developed in 1992 for the special case of eastern European states and the issue of recognition under international law, which is of course one of the ways in which a new state comes into existence.

What is interesting and surprising in Bill C-20 is that the federal government, so far from imposing its will on other people, is saying “We are prepared to recognize a right of self-determination, to recognize it legally, but here are the basic conditions. We want to be sure this is what people want. What is the objection therefore to saying that we would require a clear question and a clear majority before we go ahead with this?”

In these terms it is very difficult to see what all the fuss is about with this particular law. It takes nothing away from anyone in Quebec or any other province. It is an example of the federal government voluntarily limiting its own response and saying “In the exercise of our prerogative powers in the future, we will consider ourselves bound by the expression clearly given of people of a particular province”.

I do have something to say, though, on a larger issue that has been touched on by some of my colleagues and that is the nature of the parliamentary processes. It is inconceivable that a bill with a handful of sections, covering even in the French and English versions a handful pages, should be the subject of I am told, originally, 1,540 amendments. Now they are down to 400.

Surely we are entering into an undergraduate game with frivolous, repetitive or otherwise uninteresting and boring propositions. Why should the business of the House be held up by this sort of activity?

It is sometimes said that parliament is controlled by members and that there are no limits on the control members can exercise. People cite the parliament in Great Britain. You yourself, Mr. Speaker, are a student of that parliament and you will know that it has always been a very robust parliament. You will remember that Oliver Cromwell said to parliament, “You gentlemen have been around too long for all the good you have done. Go, for the sake of God, go”. It is recorded that not a dog barked at their departure which was gently assisted by Oliver Cromwell's friends.

What I am really saying is that it is a necessary part of the parliamentary process that the rules of the game are observed. We can have a tyranny of a majority but we can also have a tyranny of a minority. The British parliament has never hesitated to establish rules that ensure respect by all parties, majority and minority, for the rules of the game and for the ability of parliament to conduct the national business.

In the United States those of us who are old enough will remember Jimmy Stewart, the senator who could speak for 22 hours uselessly on a bill, but the United States congress has now regulated that power. There is a basic criticism of the parliament in Germany in the 1920s, a democratic regime that did nothing about the forces of evil of the right or the left in that situation. The German democracy collapsed as much from the inanition of parliament in exercising its powers to control the abusive use of parliamentary procedures as by the extremist forces outside.

I am really saying to members of the opposition that surely the points have been well established in debate. What is achieved by wasting the time of the people of Canada, wasting the time of citizens who are expecting us to act on important bills? Has the point that opposition members have been trying to make not been made adequately enough in the debate?

I have no doubt therefore that we will be forced as parliamentarians to consider proper rules to engage the orderly conduct of House business.

One of the ideas whose time has certainly come is electronic voting, the United Nations system. I think those of us who like the happy ritual of elevating oneself and sitting down again and think it is a quaint old fashioned custom are having doubts about it. It is an idea that perhaps may go very quickly through the House, as well as the ability to establish new rules that ensure no one will be able to make an abusive use of parliamentary procedures. That is a tyranny of a minority carried out incessantly and carried out without proper respect for parliamentary customs and procedures. It can in my view be dangerous to the constitutional system that we all respect.

Parliament is an ancient institution, but is also an institution of mutual respect that rests on a delicate system of checks and balances respected by all members. I would suggest to the members opposite that the Reform Party made the point with the Nisga'a treaty what can be done with parliamentary procedures.

As a distinguished Reform member said to me yesterday, stated once it is interesting, stated twice it becomes boring. However it does direct attention to the fact that the pre-emptive concern with sovereignty association issues has been at the expense of this parliament's considering the modernizing and updating of parliamentary procedures. It is long overdue that we bring parliament into the 21st century. Decent rules that assure proper respect for other members' rights are part of that.

Petitions March 13th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to present a petition duly certified by the clerk of petitions on the subject of breast cancer. The petition is signed by 96 residents of British Columbia. It calls on parliament to enact legislation to establish an independent body to develop and implement mandatory mammography quality assurance and quality control standards in Canada.

Division No. 937 March 13th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I would take as a point of order that you should exercise your powers to control tendentious and abusive use of parliamentary procedures. This is not a point of order.

The Budget February 29th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I accept the challenge. I think the MPs from Manitoba should do what I have been doing for the last six or seven years.

I have no reproach for engaging myself in boosterism. I explained what pure research was in the House. I explained it to my caucus. I persuaded people. I and my office staff spent 250 hours of work on the TRIUMF project. We had the good fortune to have a science minister who, although a very distinguished lawyer, was not a scientist in the natural science sense but who took the time to understand.

The main thing is that we have made a revolution in Canadian society. Our research and advanced education was lagging behind in significant sectors. We went to the Prime Minister and said that he must invest. I make no apologies for that. I would offer the same advice to our colleague opposite who asked the question. Go out and fight for knowledge. He should go out and fight for projects he believes in but he should bring reasoned empirical arguments.

When I went to the science minister and said that these were the facts, he read the documents, listened to the arguments and he approved. That is the way to do it.

The Budget February 29th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, if we are talking about the management of these projects, we are talking about Martha Piper, Robert Lacroix, David Strangway, and Michael Smith. These are well known scientists and physicians; we trust their advice and judgment. That is why I strongly supported their appointments. I have complete faith in their judgment.