House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was petitions.

Last in Parliament April 1997, as Liberal MP for Beauséjour (New Brunswick)

Won his last election, in 1993, with 76% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply February 21st, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I want to reassure the hon. member who just spoke. I have no doubt that her party acted out of a sense of duty in presenting this motion here today. I simply said that we had already dealt with this issue and that a committee would be looking into it, but I think there may be some merit to debating it further in this House.

She referred to the example I had given: the moratorium on post office closures announced by the minister. I was a member of Parliament from 1984 to 1990, and we were already receiving petitions back then. I had received petitions from my constituents because the government had decided to axe some post offices, especially in rural areas.

I think that these petitions did play a major role in calling the government's attention to the fact that, for the people living in rural areas, post offices were really very important.

The hon. member also referred to the GST. When we were in the opposition, we presented many petitions to point out that the GST was creating hardship for the business community due to the complex procedure involved. We have decided to find an alternative to the GST. I sincerely believe that the committee presently examining this issue and looking for ways to replace the GST with a much simpler system and one much more compatible with business management practices will take into account the demands of Canadians, demands brought before this House by members of all parties on behalf of their constituents.

Supply February 21st, 1994

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to inform hon. members that the principle of the motion before the House today has already been the subject of debate and was referred on February 7 to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for consideration and a subsequent report by the committee.

The text reads as follows: "That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs examine procedures regarding members statements, special debates, the taking of divisions of the House by electronic means, the conduct of Private Members' Business, especially with regard to private bills and to Senate public bills, any anomalies or technical inconsistencies in the Standing Orders, the reform of question period, measures to achieve more direct participation by citizens, including citizens' initiative, the right of constituents to recall their MP-binding referenda, free votes in the House of Commons, debates on petitions and fixed election dates."

Although this exercise is redundant, having already been initiated by a standing committee of this House, I certainly do not question the right of the opposition party to debate the subject today, on an allotted day.

Before starting the actual debate, I think it is important to realize there are two kinds of petitions: first, petitions arising from the fundamental right of citizens to present grievances to Parliament, and second, petitions to seek presentation of a private bill, which are signed by the person or persons seeking to be exempted from the application of certain legislation. Of course, today's debate concerns the first kind which presents grievances expressed by citizens.

For the benefit of Canadians who are listening, I will take a few minutes to give a short history of the petitions presented in the House of Commons and explain how they are presented and how the government is expected to respond. I will then give some examples to illustrate that our Standing Orders give the members of this House the means to discuss matters presented by petitioners. Finally, I will provide a summary of what is being done by this government to bring about a thorough reform of the operations of the House of Commons, which will substantially expand the role of members in developing fiscal policy and in the legislative process as a whole.

Petitions as we know them today were developed during the 17th century at a time when the British Parliament was beginning to be perceived more as a political and legislative institution than as the highest court of law in the land. The rights of petitioners and the powers of the House to act on the petitions were defined in two resolutions passed by the House of Commons in 1669. The resolutions were worded as follows:

"That it is the inherent right of every commoner in England to prepare and present petitions to the House of Commons in case of grievance and the House of Commons to receive the same; that it is an undoubted right and privilege of the Commons to judge and determine, touching the nature and matter of such petitions, how far they are fit and unfit to be received".

Until the adoption in 1842 of several standing orders aimed at defining the format for presenting petitions and at making any kind of immediate debate on their content virtually impossible, the House of Commons imposed very few restrictions on the debates arising from the presentation of petitions. Petitions had become a way to introduce a subject into the House for debate


and they were sometimes used to obstruct the planned work of the Commons.

Moreover, since the composition of the House was becoming at the time increasingly representative of the different trends of thought, the need to use petitions as a means of conveying to Parliament the pressing demands of the public decreased and as a result, the number of petitions presented declined considerably.

The Constitution of Canada recognizes that the right to petition the crown or Parliament to remedy a grievance is a fundamental principle, one that has been invoked frequently since 1867. While the House of Commons is an institution that is representative of the voters, only their elected representatives are allowed to bring issues before the House. Ordinary citizens cannot petition Parliament personally. Therefore, it is important that Canadians have a mechanism for bringing grievances deemed relevant to the attention of Parliament.

Contrary to the situation in Great Britain, the number of petitions addressed to the Canadian Parliament decreased dramatically owing to the establishment of courts of law, to the lack of clarity in the standing orders of the time and to the manner in which petitions were handled. The process in no way reflected the importance that petitions should have been assigned, considering the fundamental right of the people to petition Parliament.

Therefore, in 1984, the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons examined the question of petitions and recommended numerous amendments to the standing orders to correct the problems associated with the procedure governing petitions.

Here is what the chairman of the McGrath committee had to say in his report tabled in June 1985:

"Public petitions addressed to the House of Commons constitute one of the most direct means of communication between the people and Parliament. It is by this means that people can voice their concerns to the House on matters of public interest. However, despite the considerable effort spent preparing and circulating petitions to gather signatures, once they have been presented in the House and received, it is rare that further action is taken.

We agree that the right to petition Parliament is a fundamental right of the citizen and that petitions are an integral part of the process whereby the people of Canada speak to their elected representatives. However, the use that is made of this right gives us some concern. The procedure governing petitions should be defined more clearly to generate respect for the process and make it more meaningful. There is a definite need to clarify the rules relating to petitions, to promote increased uniformity in their presentation and to ensure that they are acceptable by the House in terms of content. In addition, we should issue guidelines on the drafting and signing of petitions. We also think that petitioners are entitled to a response".

In order to achieve these objectives, the committee recommended eight amendments to the Standing Orders on petitions.

Here are the rules to follow in presenting a petition in the House of Commons-I am sure that all members already know them, but I am repeating them for the benefit of the people listening to us-as prescribed under Standing Order 36 and summarily described in the third edition of the "Précis of Procedure" prepared by the Table Research Branch.

Members wishing to present petitions in the House do so during Routine Proceedings after "Motions" and before "Questions on Order Paper" are called. A petition may also be presented simply by filing it with the Clerk at any time during a sitting.

Before being presented, a petition must be certified and examined as to form and content by the Clerk of Petitions.

If the petition meets the requirements specified in the Standing Orders, the member presenting the petition, after being recognized by the Chair, can make a brief statement to inform the House of the content of the petition; debate on the petition itself is not allowed.

The government is obliged to respond within 45 days to all petitions referred to it. Various conditions apply to the presentation of petitions. Aliens, not resident in Canada, have no right to petition Parliament; nor may ordinary citizens of Canada address the House directly-their petitions must be dated, presented and endorsed by a member. A member cannot be compelled to present a petition and no action may be taken against a member for refusing to do so.

It is interesting to note that Standing Order 36 includes the eight recommendations in the McGrath report except for one element. The committee recommended that the government be obliged to respond within two weeks of receiving a petition, while Standing Order 36 prescribes a 45-day time limit.

The Standing Orders of the House of Commons offer several alternatives for a debate on a grievance expressed in a petition presented in the House. A member can make it the subject of a motion or a bill to be included in the "Order Paper" of the House for debate. The grievance can be the subject of a government motion, like the motion we put forward on cruise missile testing on Canadian territory, which enabled parliamentarians to debate this issue often raised in many petitions presented in this House. Speaker.

The grievance can also be reviewed by a committee of parliamentarians, or take the form of an oral question during question period or of a question in the "Order Paper". Of course, the government can decide that it needs to legislate to


redress the grievance submitted to it through the House of Commons.

Then there are the general debates on the business of supply, better known as Opposition days like today, when the Opposition can decide on the motions to be debated on designated days of a given supply period. We are currently in the period ending March 26, which includes nine allotted days. The next period, which will end June 30, will include 10 allotted days. The period ending December 10 will also include six Opposition days.

So if they wish, the opposition parties normally have 20 days a year during which the grievances presented by Canadians in petitions tabled in the House could be debated.

On February 7, the House of Commons passed the motion presented by the government House leader, the Hon. Herb Gray, which changes the rules of Parliament. The purpose of this reform is to make the House more effective by giving every member more influence over policy development.

These changes which give members a greater role in drafting legislation and setting the government's spending priorities were the first initiatives arising from the Liberal election program for job creation and economic recovery, as mentioned in Creating Opportunity, our famous red book. These initiatives were adopted by the House of Commons.

During the debate, Mr. Gray said, "Today, we are providing a framework for renewal. It will be up to all members, both government and opposition, to make these procedures effective".

The main changes to the Standing Orders are as follows. Two new processes, in addition to those that now exist, are being established so that members can review bills. Thus members will participate directly in the preparation of laws and have greater autonomy in amending government legislation, through the committee system.

The Standing Committee on Finance will hold pre-budget consultations and make recommendations to the Minister of Finance.

The standing committees will be authorized to examine the government's future defence priorities and to report on them at the same time as they deal with the Main Estimates for the current year.

These measures were preceded by a review of the structure of standing committees to reflect the reorganization of the government. These reforms are only the first stage.

A petition is an excellent way for the public to express its opinions directly on the floor of the House of Commons or the Senate, through a parliamentarian. The government is forced to respond and in many ways will take the petitions into consideration in future decisions.

For instance, and this is a very good example, last week, my colleague, the minister responsible for Canada Post, announced a moratorium on the closure of post offices. There is no doubt in my mind that the many petitions presented in this House by hon. members on this subject definitely had an impact not only on the decision to review this policy but also on the decision to impose the moratorium.

Another case is also a good example: the GST. In the election campaign, we promised to replace the GST and to ask the Standing Committee on Finance to study alternatives. This decision was not made in a vacuum. Obviously, Canadians were heard by our government and their thousands of petitions presented in this House, submitted to the House, bore fruit.

Of course, the members of the opposition party who presented the motion are eager to bring up cases where the opinions expressed by Canadians in petitions were not reflected in decisions made by the government and they neglect to mention all the other cases.

The main subject of debate today is petitions, but I believe that the real issue of this debate and of all the questions raised by members of the Reform Party on the subject of parliamentary reform is the loyalty of members to their constituents, to their party, to their country or to their conscience.

We, Liberals, believe that members of Parliament must strike a balance between these positions which can sometimes be reconciled in making a decision, but can also be highly conflicting.

Canada is a country greater than the sum of its parts. So, for the sake of national cohesiveness, the decisions made by Parliament must be greater than the sum of individual decisions made by its members.

We, Liberals, feel that the credibility of parliamentarians is enhanced when they contribute directly, and can make an important contribution, to the development and implementation of programs and goals that the federal government must achieve, and not, as some members would have it, by repeating the public opinion parrot fashion and serving as mere voting machines.

In conclusion, and I know my time is running out, as for the other examples cited in the opposition motion, I wish to bring to the attention of the members the fact that the Minister of Justice has already answered in Question Period to some of these subjects and is looking into those matters.


As for the third and last example, that of recall, I do not need to repeat what has been said in this House about the experience in Alberta.

In closing, I sincerely feel that our Standing Ordes already provide many procedures to deal with grievances presented in the petitions we table in this House. On the other hand, if the Procedure and House Affairs Committee were to conclude that changes were called for with regard to petitions, I am sure that all the hon. members would consider their recommendations very carefully.

Ways And Means February 17th, 1994

moved that a ways and means motion to amend the Excise Tax Act, laid upon the table Monday, February 14, 1994 be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to.)

Business Of The House February 15th, 1994

Madam Speaker, I wish to confirm what the government House leader announced last Thursday, that tomorrow, February 16, will be an allotted day. The Order Paper will reflect this designation.

Prince Edward Island Fixed Link February 15th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the members from the other side for supporting this amendment and also for supporting the project as a whole.

Unfortunately, as the member mentioned, some of those now working for the ferry system, maybe I should say many of them, will not find a job on the bridge.

As I mentioned during my speech, Marine Atlantic, the company which operates the ferry system, has already contacted the unions in order to find ways to minimize the impact of the bridge opening and help those people find other jobs.

Of course, local communities and economic commissions are trying to develop tourism and that could create jobs for the ferry workers of today. But I can assure you that every effort will be made to help these people adapt to the new situation so that they can find other jobs.

Prince Edward Island Fixed Link February 15th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her comments and question. Let me assure her that we will make every effort to ensure that all governmental programs, those of the local associations as well as those of the government itself, will be made available to the workers in order to encourage them and help them find a job both during the construction stage of the project and once the bridge is finished, through the opportunities that will be generated. Every effort will be made to ensure that this project brings about the maximum benefits possible.

Prince Edward Island Fixed Link February 15th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest and pleasure that I rise to support the proposed constitutional amendment which will allow for the construction of a fixed crossing, that is a bridge joining Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

We can understand that this project is of particular interest to the residents of Beauséjour, since one end of the bridge will be in their riding, more specifically in Cape Tourmentine. To have access to the bridge, people travelling from Nova Scotia will drive through Port Elgin to reach Cape Tormentine, whereas those coming from New Brunswick will go through Moncton, Shediac, Cap-Pelé, Port Elgin and Cape Tormentine. Consequently, people using this bridge will drive through our area.

As the minister said, this is a major project the likes of which we have never seen in our region before. It is said to be an $840 million initiative, over a period of three or four years.

This project will of course create employment, probably 900 to 1,000 jobs per year, for a few years. Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that my constituents are happy to see this project being approved, for the simple reason that, given the current situation in the province and in fact in all of Atlantic Canada, where the fishing industry is collapsing, especially as regards groundfish, any effort to stimulate employment is welcome and supported. People are particularly pleased because we are told, and in fact we know, that 96 per cent of workers will be from Atlantic Canada, which is not to say that workers from other regions will be excluded. You realize of course that people from our region will do their utmost to be hired for that project.

We are also told that 70 per cent of supplies will be provided by contractors from Atlantic Canada. For that purpose, the economic commission for south eastern New Brunswick has hired one person, with the support of ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, who will be responsible for providing local contractors with all the necessary information to offer their services.

I followed the development of this project because the construction of such a bridge has been the subject of discussions for many years. In fact, an overpass as well as an access road were even built at the end of the fifties when there were already talks of building a fixed link between PEI and New Brunswick. Indeed, such an initiative has been discussed for a long time, to the point that people in our community were wondering if this was only a dream. It now seems that the dream will finally come true, and we certainly hope so.

This project may have been in the offing for a long time, but it was also developed very cautiously. A series of public meetings were held to inform Atlantic Canada residents on the building techniques and to reassure those who had concerns about the environment. And I can tell you that a lot of people and groups did raise concerns about the environment. I want to say that my constituents and myself are also very concerned by this aspect.

I do share that concern but, at the same time, I am confident, considering what I heard and all the studies which were done. The minister was not exaggerating when he said that all those studies could make a pile six feet high. Indeed, a lot of studies were done and those are public documents to which everyone can have access. So I am certain that all precautions have been taken to ensure that the environment will be protected.

I also know that all work on the construction sites, on the New Brunswick side or on the Prince Edward Island side, will be governed by strict procedures, both on land and on the waters of Northumberland Strait.

The workers will have to follow strict procedures supervised by a committee responsible for ensuring that all environmental precautions are taken. It is rather reassuring that the contractor and all subcontractors must control their procedures and respect the environment.

Of course, even if we take every precaution, some groups might be affected, and I am thinking particularly of fishermen here. In order to give these groups some protection, especially fishermen, including those who fish for scallops and lobsters, who will be most affected, a committee has been set up to implement a compensation program. From the very beginning, that is what we have demanded, citizens, fishermen and local associations alike: that a compensation program be set up before work begins so that those people would be compensated for their losses if the fishery were damaged.

Although the final mechanism has not yet been determined, a committee of fishermen, fishermen's association representatives and officials is studying this problem.

When I spoke of lobster fishermen, the people of Cape Tormentine will be the most affected first because a way will have to be cleared across the strait where construction will go on and the fishermen of other communities away from Cape Tormentine, like Murray Corner, Aboiteau, Cap-Pelé, Shediac and up the Northumberland Strait to Cocagne, Buctouche and even as far as our area could feel the effects from the construction. I do not think that these effects will be considerable, at least I hope not, but if they were affected, we will certainly have a mechanism in place to compensate them.

I spoke only of lobster fishermen, but there are also scallop fishermen, since scallop banks will be affected by this bridge construction.

There is a group that will be directly affected by the construction of this bridge. That group is the families of the ferry workers who will lose their jobs after construction of the bridge is completed. Right now there are over 400 workers and the bridge will provide about 60 or 70 jobs. I want to reassure those people and members of the House that every effort will be made to offer to those people directly affected a proper compensation and training package in order to minimize the effects of the loss of jobs when the bridge opens. I have been in communication with Marine Atlantic. It has started discussions with the unions to try to put a program in place to minimize those effects.

I certainly offer my assistance in any way to make sure that the jobs available once the bridge opens are offered to those ferry workers and to make sure that those unable to get a job receive a proper compensation package.

In conclusion I support this project. I support it because it will create jobs and give new impetus to the tourism industry. Of course, my colleague from Prince Edward Island just said that Prince Edward Island's tourism industry will develop as a result. I am pleased about that, but we in Beauséjour, by offering tourism facilities like the land of la Sagouine, which you know well, Arboiteau Park, which is now being developed, and other projects under consideration, will try to attract visitors either on their way to the island or on their way back. We will invite them to spend a few hours or a few days with us.

Business Of The House February 9th, 1994

Pursuant to our Standing Orders, I want to inform the House that tomorrow, February 10, and Friday, February 11, will be allotted days.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements And Federal Post-Secondary Education And Health Contributions Act February 8th, 1994

moved that Bill C-3, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements and Federal Post-Secondary Education and Health Contributions Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Tobacco Products February 8th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I rise to seek unanimous consent to permit the Minister of Human Resources Development to introduce a bill to provide for the maintenance of west coast operations.