Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the House on the issue of parliamentary reform. This is a subject which is very important to me, not only as a member of the government team but also as the member for Beauséjour.
In the last three general elections the people of Beauséjour have elected me as their member of Parliament in the House of Commons. They have given me a mandate to defend their interests in the House. I am very proud to represent the people of Beauséjour. I can assure the House and the people from Beauséjour that I will make every effort to represent them well.
However, when I was elected for the first time in 1984, it took me some time to realize how complex and inflexible the machinery of government is. It is not always easy to find one's way among procedural rules, the Standing Orders of the House, party discipline and the expectations of those who have put their trust in you.
You know, as I do, that the voters are disillusioned with political institutions. They are disheartened by what they read in the newspapers and see on television every day.
Last fall people from coast to coast delivered a very clear message by electing more than 200 new members to this House.
The people want to see some changes. They are dissatisfied because they were not always consulted, because their opinions were not always taken into consideration, and because important decisions were often made behind closed doors.
Data compiled from a survey conducted in 1992 for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing confirms what our constituents have long been thinking. Seventy per cent of respondents said they felt the government did not care at all about what people like themselves were thinking. This is very unfortunate.
No fewer than 82 per cent of Canadians, that is more than four in five, also responded that most candidates in federal elections made promises without any intention whatsoever of keeping them. This too is very unfortunate.
Finally, 32 per cent of respondents said that most elected officials simply did their best under difficult circumstances. This is a little more reassuring. And, it is precisely to address these difficult circumstances that we are proposing changes to our Standing Orders.
All those who have red the red book released during the last election campaign-and many have-know that parliamentary reform is very important to the party which now forms the government.
We made a commitment to electors to adopt a series of measures to restore their confidence in political institutions. It is no coincidence, therefore, that one of the first initiatives put forward concerns the standing orders of this House.
This decision reflects not only our eagerness to take concrete action, but also our willingness to initiate a constructive dialogue with all members of this House on this issue.
The changes that we are proposing would allow MPs to play a greater role and restore the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of their Parliament and in its ability to intervene in matters which it deems important.
Thus, we are proposing that certain government bills be referred to committee immediately following first reading. The committee could then consider them, amend them if it wishes and report back to the House. The House would then proceed at the same time to the debate on second reading and at the report stage.
The procedure for third and final reading would remain the same.
As we all know, the current legislative process is almost over by the time a bill reaches first reading stage. Too often, members get the feeling that the legislation before them is set in stone, as we say.
Therefore, we want to change the process so that a bill would be referred to a committee right after being read the first time. That way, each and every element of a bill will undergo a complete and open examination. We will have a more transparent decision making process, as was requested by our constituents. Quick referral to a committee would give hon. members more influence over the substance of the bills.
In order to increase their influence, we could ask committees to study some issues before a bill is drafted.
Committee members would then have a say in the legislative strategy, suggesting guidelines or parameters for the upcoming bill.
We want the government to be more open when time comes to prepare the budget. In the past, consultations regarding the budget were kept secret. Nothing could come out before the budget was tabled in the House.
We want the Standing Committee on Finance to study the fiscal policy put forward by the government. We want to establish a very open consultation process for the budget. Through his efforts these last few months, the Minister of Finance has shown the way we want to go on this issue.
Our wish is to listen to what people have to say so that we may respond not only to their needs but also to their expectations. The changes we are proposing will make it possible for the Standing Committee on Finance to hold consultations next fall before the presentation of the 1995 budget.
The process of establishing a budget will be much more open and a lot less secretive.
Before the government unveils its fiscal priorities, as many people as possible should have an opportunity to express their views. Again, to avoid putting members before a fait accompli , we are suggesting that, after detailed study of the Estimates, the committees be given three additional weeks to prepare a report on future priorities for a department, for example. Therefore, when members of the Standing Committee on Finance would undertake their consultation process in the fall, they would already have a number of suggestions to take into consideration.
The measures I just mentioned would help members to play a more important role and to feel they really have some influence on bills referred to the House and passed.
Not one of us was elected to simply say yea or nay on bills we have not worked on. Thousands of people trusted us to make changes; we cannot disappoint them.
The measures before us today also involve changes to the sitting hours of the House. By eliminating the evening session on Wednesdays and adjourning earlier on Fridays, hon. members will be able to spend more time on committees and in their ridings.
Finally I would like to add that these measures mark only the beginning of parliamentary reform. During the weeks and the months to come, we want to sit down with representatives of the Opposition parties to come up with some more changes.
These changes will affect question period and statements by members. There are other points that we would like the parliamentary reform committee to study before submitting to the House a report with recommendations. What we would like is to pursue the dialogue on parliamentary reform with all elected members in the House.
We must innovate, we must take a fresh look at our tasks as parliamentarians and we must find solutions which will help restore the integrity of the government. We will thus restore the confidence of the Canadian people in their institutions.
It is our duty to offer to Canadians a parliament to which they can relate and to give them an institution of which they can be proud.