Mr. Speaker, I speak today in support of the motion introduced by my colleague from Mission-Coquitlam. I believe members ought to consider three propositions relating to the measures she has placed before the House: first, that freer votes are needed; second, that freer votes are coming; and third, that freer votes should be welcomed.
I suggest freer votes together with relaxation of the confidence convention will allow members of Parliament to truly fulfil their responsibility to represent the interests of their constituents in Parliament.
The strength of our party system is of the utmost importance. That is to say party members must act as a team. They must be able to stand united behind a clearly articulated action plan. Parties must be a source of inspiration. They must ensure that MPs do not vote arbitrarily or irresponsibly. That is why we must present them with measures which would enable them to move the system toward a more direct democracy. Indeed in a representative democracy the paramount responsibility of elected members is surely to truly represent not only the party's interests but also those of their constituents.
This is the first of two reasons why I believe freer votes are needed. Put in its simplest terms democracy means rule by the people, not rule by a Prime Minister, not rule by a Prime Minister and cabinet, not rule by elected members belonging to a government party, not even rule by all 295 MPs, but rule by the people.
Regrettably in Canada few would argue that democracy in the full sense of government by the people does not exist. As Professor Mortimore has written, there is only a crude veto power at election time. In the absence of a system that translates informed public opinion into policy decisions, manipulative insiders will continue to make policy and govern.
I believe that democracy is not a fixed imperishable, but a dynamic that must be reinvigorated as old conventions grow increasingly unable to meet the needs of a changing society.
A true commitment to preserve and protect the essence of our democratic system, to ensure that we enjoy the reality, not just have the label of living in a democracy, is why we must now move toward mechanisms like freer votes which will more truly empower a better informed and technologically advanced public.
In addition to our obligation as leaders and elected representatives to preserve and promote truly democratic government there is a second reason why measures like freer votes are needed. The system must change because it has largely lost the trust, respect and support of the people it must serve.
One need look no further than the results of the last election to gauge the anger at the system that prevails in Canada today. It would be a mistake to assume that by changing the players in this institution the Canadian electorate has exhausted its political discontent. The 1993 election was a symptom of the disease, not the cure.
Unless we ensure that national decision-making is more truly reflective of the judgment of Canadians they will continue to express their disdain for the decision-making system and for their representatives with all the resulting negative consequences for our society.
I sincerely believe that only reforms to the system will make it possible for Canadians to develop new confidence in the way they are governed. That is why I believe freer votes are needed as a small and necessary step in the process of reform. I also believe that free votes are coming.
I am a member of a party which is advocating more open and accountable government, subject to checks and balances controlled by the people themselves. The implementation of direct democracy measures such as recall, referendums and citizens' initiatives and freer votes is a key element of the Reform Party program.
This is a party that in six short years has already won enough support from the public to elect 52 members to represent the people of Canada in the House of Commons. However, we should be clear that Reformers have not created some sudden demand for direct democracy. Rather we are here because the demand existed but no traditional political vehicle was willing or able to respond to it.
The demand has been intense enough to energize Canadian citizens like me to devote the enormous amount of time and effort necessary to inject an entirely new dynamic into the
political equation. Neither the demand nor the determination to meet it is going to go away.
In addition, changes are occurring in our society which make democratic reforms imperative and inescapable. Citizens are focusing increasingly on their rights and demanding that those rights be met.
In the marketplace now the consumer is boss. Canadians are well educated, well travelled and well informed. They recognize the increasing degree to which policy decisions do not enjoy any broad public support. They comprehend the waste and mismanagement in the administration of the country's economic affairs and the burden of the huge mortgage that has been placed on our future. They are saying: "If anyone were listening to us such poor decisions would never be made. Perhaps it is time we got to make some of these decisions". They are saying these things louder and more insistently all the time.
Dr. David Elton of the Canada West Foundation has stated that we can fight this move toward direct democracy until it sweeps us aside or we can work to facilitate it through a thoughtful and well managed process. But one way or another, measures like freer votes are coming. It is up to us to ensure that this irresistible force does not meet immovable MPs because we have already seen that immovable MPs can and will be removed.
It is only fair to point out that the present Prime Minister has shown absolutely no sympathy or understanding for this clear desire on the part of Canadians to move toward direct democracy. He says he finds the notion of referendums repulsive. When presented with a petition signed by tens of thousands of voters demanding the right to recall a representative who has lost their confidence he says: "You will get your chance in four years and not before". He says MPs should vote as directed by the party they ran as part of and vote as directed by their own judgment. Freedom to vote the wishes of the constituents who elected an MP to represent them in Parliament does not make his list.
In fact the government House leader, in proposing changes to the rules of the House of Commons on February 7 explicitly excluded any mention of free votes, stating that the subject cannot be dealt with by the rules. He then spent considerable time denying the legitimacy of free votes in Canada's parliamentary system, including reference to our constitutional legacy from the United Kingdom. What he failed to mention is that the United Kingdom's Parliament has enjoyed free votes for over 20 years now. He does not explain why this legacy has been ignored in our Canadian Parliament.
I would like to conclude on a positive note with my third proposition that free votes should be welcomed. Canadians, a tolerant and forbearing people by nature, remain willing to allow their representatives a good measure of latitude in the exercise of their own judgment and in support for the program a representative's party took to the voters.
Surely it is not too much to ask that when the member's own judgment or party agenda clearly and demonstrably diverges from the broad public consensus in the riding he or she represents that it is the constituents' interests which will carry the day. If we cannot countenance democracy even to that degree, if the views and conscience of one representative must always be able to override the interest and conscience of the thousands of electors he or she represents, then we ought to be honest, admit that we have abandoned the notion of being a democratic nation where the people rule and accept that we have instead an elected dictatorship.
Members of this House are glad to live in a democracy. We value and affirm our right as citizens in this democracy to make decisions for ourselves regarding our future and the laws within which we will conduct ourselves.
We recognize that such freedom is meaningless unless we, the elected representatives of Canadian citizens, stand ready, willing and able to give effect to their rights of self-determination by giving effect to their wishes when we vote on their behalf.
We continue to abrogate the democratic rights of our fellow citizens when we refuse to truly represent them for personal, partisan or political reasons. My colleague from Mission-Coquitlam has provided in her motion a very concrete measure by which we can allow our fellow citizens their legitimate role in a 21st century democracy.
It is a measure long since adopted in other respected democracies including our role model of the United Kingdom. Only we as members of this House of Commons, this house of the people, can be agents of needed change. Will we have the courage and commitment to be leaders our constituents can count on to put their interests ahead of our party when it comes down to a choice?
They voted for us. Will we vote for them? I urge members to support this motion.