September 19, 1996

LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Paul Zed (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the debate this morning. I have also been, with some interest, involved in the matter that led up to this debate coming before us today.

As a new member of this House, I too have found it to be a learning curve challenge to deal with some of the issues of the standing orders, the rules, the decorum and the general principles of governing ourselves as members of this House and as members of the other house.

Frankly, I think that on balance, one of my frustrations when I listen to some of my colleagues from the Reform Party is based on the fact that they-

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the proceedings and particularly the parliamentary secretary, but I have been apprised by our table officers that there is a technicality here that I think we should clear up.

The parliamentary secretary in tabling the motion earlier is deemed to have spoken. Therefore, just to assure myself that we are following the correct parliamentary procedures here, I will have to ask the House for consent to permit the parliamentary secretary to continue his intervention. Is it agreed?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

Mr. Speaker, there is a good example where a rule has come up and we learn by our inexperience.

The point is that we need to look at what the government said when it was the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1993 federal campaign.

In that campaign there were a number of commitments which dealt with parliamentary reform. They included the commitment that would give members of Parliament a greater role in drafting legislation through House of Commons committees. That was a commitment we made. We made a commitment that would permit a parliamentary review of order in council appointments.

It was a commitment we made as a Liberal Party. We stood before the people of Canada and said that was a principle. We all felt in the run up to the 1993 election that the respect the people of Canada had for members of Parliament was low. Now that we are at our places in the House we all have a responsibility to try to enhance and improve the respect and the integrity of the system.

We also talked about more free votes in the House of Commons in the lead up to the campaign. We talked about the fact that members of Parliament should be involved in the prebudget consultation process.

Frankly, whether or not the Reform Party members have accepted this, we won the election. Therefore, our platform is the one which will be adopted and imposed. Despite their opposition, I am somewhat sympathetic to certain remarks that were made by the whip for the Bloc Quebecois this morning. All parties have to work together at committees to produce and enhance the work of the government as it is presented.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to say this morning, I was really struck by the very first line in Beauchesne. It states:

The principles of Canadian parliamentary law are: to protect a minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of a majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner; to enable every Member to express opinions within limits necessary to preserve decorum-

We must have certain limits and certain rules. Just because the Reform Party members do not like the rules, they want to change the rules.

The rules have become part of the Canadian tradition which adopts the principles of the British House of Commons, the principles that all members have respected. Notwithstanding those principles or precedents, the Liberal Party of Canada came forward with a series of changes and said that there were certain flexibilities it would like to build into a new approach to Parliament. We ran on them and we got elected on those and we implemented them.

On February 7, 1994 our government House leader brought forward a substantial motion that detailed changes to basic House rules. He stood in his place and said that there should be a motion to change the rules. He talked about the fact that he wanted to implement a number of commitments that our party made in the election campaign and in the speech from the throne. That is how it works. He talked about a revitalization of Parliament.

Not everything the Reform Party has said is wrong. Not everything the Liberal Party, the Bloc or other Canadians have said is wrong, but we have a set of principles of British parliamentary tradition that we have had for hundreds of years. When we look at how Canadians have reflected on this Parliament and the previous Parliament during the mandate of this government since 1993, it speaks volumes about how Canadians have reflected on us as members of Parliament. I do not say that in a partisan way. I talk

about it as the hard, good work that has occurred on committees such as the industry committee, government operations committee and the lobbyist committee.

As a new member of Parliament I have been given the opportunity and the honour to have served shoulder to shoulder with members from the Reform Party and the Bloc where we work together in procedure and House affairs to resolve difficult and complex issues when legislation comes after first reading to our committee as it did with the lobbyist bill.

We were given a rare new Canadian opportunity, an opportunity that lived up to the commitment that we made as a government and as a party. We said that members of Parliament should be given more flexibility and so we effectively drafted new legislation.

We had a minister come before our committee who said: "Here is my bill, my opportunity to present my best chance to give you how I believe a policy should be implemented on lobbying". The committee took this very seriously and worked very hard with members of the Reform Party, the Bloc and with our own members. We had members of the Liberal Party agreeing with the Bloc. We had members of the Liberal Party agreeing the Reform. At the end of the day we had a very good quality result. The result was a better piece of legislation.

We brought the minister back and he said: "I think you have gone a little further than I might have gone but if that was the consensus I am prepared to accept it". I use that as an example of the credibility of members of Parliament. Frankly, our credibility is at stake every day because all members of Parliament at the end of the day have to work together. They do not have to agree on everything from hair style, suits or opinions but we respect each other's opinions.

One of the frustrations that I find with what Reform members have suggested in certain comments today is how committees have manipulated democracy. Frankly, what I worry about is in whose view of democracy have they manipulated? Is it their view? Is it the people's view? Which people of Canada's democracy have we talked about?

The issue is not that the government has failed to live up to its commitments. The real issue is the Reform Party has failed to understand that it did not win the last election. Many of my colleagues know I have tried throughout my career in Parliament to be a non-partisan chairman at industry, at government operations, at lobbyists and procedure and House affairs. At the peril of my own party I have tried to be a non-partisan chair of a committee.

I find it most irritating when I see members opposite, particularly in the Reform Party, trying to portray the government as manipulating democracy because their characterization of that is a perversion of democracy. Their characterization is manipulating the true realities of how this place works. Many Canadians do not get an opportunity to get the flavour of what goes on in this place.

Frankly, perhaps rather than televising this place we could have more television at our committee rooms when a lot of the real work of what goes on at committees is what is going at this place for the work of the men and women who work shoulder to shoulder regardless of political persuasion.

Because there is a particular agenda in one particular party which represents only a very small part of that overall agenda, I find it irritating disruptive-

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An hon. member

Rubbish.

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member calls it rubbish. It is important to look at what our party has done, at what we have accomplished, at what we have done and what we said we were going to do and at what Canadians feel about members of Parliament today.

I feel better about being able to say to people when I get into a taxi, when I am in a restaurant or when I am on the street in a market that I am a member of Parliament than I might have characterized being a member of Parliament 10 years ago.

Elections are something that we have for 45 days every four or five years. I would urge those members of the Reform Party who have not bothered to read the newspaper to realize that they lost the last election to look at some of the polls about how Canadians feel about Parliament, that we are doing a better job. It is not as Liberals, although the Liberal Party is doing quite well. I am very proud of that record but those members should reflect on how Canadians view Parliament, how Canadians have viewed the committees that are working, the role of the member of Parliament.

I am very proud of the committees that I have worked on. I am proud of the work of the members of the Reform Party and the members of the Bloc Quebecois. They have contributed. We have become friends, colleagues and compatriots. We have become part of a process of changing this place and making it better. We have become part of making the British parliamentary tradition that we have so carefully preserved at this place more flexible, more current.

As the member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley said, it needs to be something not spoken by Sir Edmund Burke 200 years ago. It has to be more modern. We have a more modern democracy and a more modern federation.

While I disagree with certain views of the Reform Party or certain views of the Bloc, we have become a better federation. I do not think it is fair to characterize the new government initiatives that were brought about as commitments in the red book to give members of Parliament more flexibility, more involvement with drafting legislation, and have them whitewashed as a manipulation of democracy. That is wrong. It is disruptive. That is intellectually dishonest.

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An hon. member

That is rubbish.

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

There is a good example where a member walks into the Chamber, barks out "rubbish" and then wants to participate in the debate.

If Canadians want to look at what is really going on, perhaps they want to re-examine what is going on with certain members of the Reform Party. Frankly, it makes me very worried about democracy when I look at some of the extremist views that come out of certain elements in the Reform Party.

I respect the member's right. I would ask you respect our right to-

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I have been here since the beginning of the debate. There are strongly held views about this issue. Please allow the Chamber to do its work in the usual parliamentary fashion. We will get through this debate and all the others.

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude with what Reform Party members said when our government leader spoke about the reforms and brought forward the reforms, the enlightened changes in my view, to the House.

The House leader for the Reform Party, whom I would consider a colleague and a friend, said the following. I respect what he says. The members of the Reform Party should listen carefully to these words and take heed of them: "Mr. Speaker, today is a very great day and one we should mark high on the marquee as being very important for the House, for Parliament and for the people of Canada. First I want to thank the government". He spoke those words in reply to the government House leader. He spoke those words in response to the changes, the initiatives we brought forward, to the initiatives we campaigned on, to the initiatives we have implemented.

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An hon. member

Be specific.

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

If you had been listening to the debate you would know what the specifics were.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I know that shortly we will get to questions and comments. I urge you to please make your interventions through the chair.

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

Mr. Speaker, I believe MPs have been given a greater role. I believe MPs have been permitted to have Parliament review legislation. I believe we have been given more free votes. I believe we have been more effective in becoming involved in the consultation process.

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REF

Chuck Strahl

Reform

Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley East, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I sort of enjoyed that presentation. It was a lot of good political rhetoric, not as good as the government whip who I still think trumps this particular member because he gets the political rhetoric up to a different level. I did not believe most of it, but still it was relatively good rhetoric.

The question I have is two-fold. This was asked of the government whip, and I will ask the deputy House leader. The committees are supposed to be independent and above board, masters of their own destiny. I asked the government whip if he instructs the members of the committee as to who should be the chairman and vice-chairman. The government whip would not answer. So I ask him the same. Who in the hierarchy in the Liberal party instructs who should be chairs of these committees?

Second, on the greater issue of fulfilling red book promises, one of the promises for parliamentary reform is that the position of deputy chair should go to one of the opposition parties. That was the position in the red book, written by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands. That has not come to pass, even by the furthest stretch of the Liberal imagination. I wonder why that did not happen if it was a red book promise? What about these committees? Who chooses the chairman?

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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Zed

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly not a new complaint coming from the whip of the Reform party or from the previous whip of the Reform party, or the previous whip of the Reform party, or the previous acting whip of the Reform party. I get a little amused-the old expression that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

What I find curious is why members of the Reform party would want to have information about how the Liberal caucus operates? The committee operation is open. The Liberal party continues to be the most open party on Parliament Hill. We have democratic elections. We have democratic open contests. There is no fettering of that. There is no interference with that. We have a caucus system.

I make no illusions about the fact that I got elected as a member of a political party. We campaigned on it. We produced our information in black and white and we were elected on it. What I find a little curious is that we made commitments, got elected and delivered on those commitments. What part would the hon. member say we did not deliver on? Have we given a greater role to drafting legislation? How many pieces of legislation have gone to committee after first reading? How many parliamentary reviews have there been of order in council appointments by this Parliament? How many more free votes have there been in this Parliament than the previous Parliament?

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Before I recognize the hon. member for Chambly I should explain to the House that when we began the debate on the motion, the first time around each of the parties, the government, the Reform and the Bloc spoke. We are now reverting to the customary order for speakers and I will now go to the official opposition to see if someone wants to speak and then I will revert back to the government to see if there is a spokesperson and of course subsequently to the Reform Party.

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BQ

Ghislain Lebel

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Ghislain Lebel (Chambly, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand up before you in this House to make a few comments on the attitude of the Reform Party today.

I am a member of this Parliament. With a senator I co-chair the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. As the hon. member who just spoke pointed out, it is in the committees that the real political work gets done. It is there that members can have an impact on the legislative process, often without regard to how parties are represented on the committee.

This morning, for example, I attended a meeting of the industry committee at which another member like myself asked pertinent questions and tried to influence the position of the Liberal majority on the committee. Judging from the reaction of the other members and of the Liberal majority, I now believe that his proposals may be approved. That is the ultimate reason why members sit on any committee.

It is the same for the regulations committee, where a Reform member often asks relevant questions and contributes ideas the committee needs, because they often-not always, but often-reflect common sense and a real search for solutions.

For example, I must point out to the Reform Party, the third party, that since the real political work is done in committee, it is normal for those who appoint the committee executive to choose people who tend to share their views.

That is probably why, in many respects, the Liberal Party is in perfect harmony with Bloc members, and that is probably why Liberal members on a committee will often vote for a Bloc member as vice-chair. In fact, other than on sovereignty issue, if you look at the record of the debates and votes held in this place, you can see that the Bloc Quebecois has often adopted or already shared the Liberal position. That is politics.

By contrast, and I must remind Reform members of this. They often come here to defend the oppressor rather than the oppressed, and I can elaborate on this.

They often remind me of this joke a member told me a while ago. Two young men are trying to steal a purse from an old lady on the street, but she puts up quite a fight. He said-that is how the joke goes: "I stepped in and the three of us had no problem snatching the purse from her." What the Reform Party is doing in this place is similar.

Take for example the banking legislation, the Interest Act introduced in this place. That year, banks had made between $3.2 and $3.4 billion in net profit after taking advantage of every allowance for bad debts permitted under the law. The Reform Party-I had not travelled as extensively in Canada at the time as I have since-objected to telling the banks that their profits were excessive and that they should loosen their stranglehold on consumers.

The Reform Party voted unanimously against it. I figured that everyone in western Canada were either bankers or very wealthy, with close ties to banks. They could not be consumers or debtors; they had to be creditors.

I have travelled through there a few times since. Along the road, I have seen houses no more sumptuous or larger that those in rural Quebec. I noticed big equipment, probably mortgaged or financed, in some people's back yards. They could have used the kind of assistance provided for in this famous piece of legislation.

No Reform member rose on party lines to say that the banks were doing a little too well. Reform members all voted against the bill presented by the hon. member for Portneuf calling for the employees working in a company just before it went bankrupt to be given priority when assets were distributed, even ahead of the banks. Unanimously, Reform members voted against. They are not right of centre, but extreme right wing, which is unfortunate.

They would like the majority to submit, to shut up, and to let them have the whole playing field. They think they could go ahead with hare-brained ideas like reinstating the death penalty. Apparently, they even sent someone to the eastern bloc countries to learn how to give a good beating, how to flog people. They are pretty good at whipping themselves. They discovered something good, something equitable and fair: how to whip others.

Will we put up with such attitudes in committee? When the message does not suit Reform members, they go after the messenger. They kill the messenger. It is simpler to eliminate him, and thus silence any opposition.

I heard Reform members, puritans no doubt, saying that God did not make all men equal. He created the rich and the poor. It is not up to a man, a legislator, or society to restore a just balance. God created such a world, and we must respect His will. The poor have no choice but to die, or to starve. This is Reform's basic philosophy. The rich can become richer. God wanted them rich. This is the other side of Reform's basic philosophy.

Fortunately, in committee, and I acknowledge it, their views are somewhat less rigid. They know they are in a minority position and cannot impose such a philosophy, and this is what frustrates them.

Now, put yourself on the side of the majority. Will the majority let reformers run the show in committees and try to sell all sorts of preposterous ideas, all this is in the context of a political agenda so convoluted that is hard to follow?

In this particular case, I can understand that Liberal members would vote in favour of Bloc Quebecois members who, since the beginning, and in spite of having had just about every possible insult hurled at them, have been able to stay on course and follow their ideal and their philosophy, which is to show compassion for the poor and to have an understanding of the political situation in Canada, and in Quebec in particular.

All these factors come into play and influence the outcome of an election to a committee.

I want to reassure reformers right now by telling them that the redistribution of the electoral map for the next election will greatly favour them. There will be several new seats in western Canada, including British Columbia and from Ontario on. This will be a golden opportunity for them to become the official opposition, as they so strongly wish. Are we to interpret their attitude this morning as a sign that they have come to the conclusion, as the party whip said, that they might be wiped off Canada's political map in the next election? They may have come to this conclusion but, of course, they will not all tell us.

All this to say that we cannot, in the committees, grant executive representation to a minority party. It cannot be done.

Since I only have a minute left, I will to reply to the member for Vancouver, who quoted a latin maxim of his own. Let me tell him one which I hope he will understand. It is not from me. It says: Vox populi, vox Dei. When the majority speaks it is the very basis of democracy and we must respect that. We must not start interpreting democracy. When democracy has spoken, we must respect it.

In response to what the member proposes, I will simply say that the nicest bird song is not always and necessarily the longest one. I say no to what he is proposing this morning.

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BQ

Gilbert Fillion

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Gilbert Fillion (Chicoutimi, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I have been sitting here right from the beginning of this debate, and I have to admit I have not been able to understand what Reform members are driving at. What do they want?

None of them has been able to describe the kind of democracy they would like to see here.

But I did understand one thing. Reform members are unable to adjust to the system. Whether we work here, in the Canadian Parliament, in a workers' union, in a school, or a hospital, there is always a system that cannot be ignored. It is needed if we are to avoid constant strife and futile discussions, to avoid having to do without an established order. Under such conditions, it is extremely difficult to reach a consensus.

It is a well known fact that Reform members have a hard time agreeing among themselves. Just imagine the problem they have living within the system as it now stands.

To make things change, one must work from within the system. That is the way to improve it.

I have to admit that I sometimes have a hard time accepting what goes on in committee. I sat on the public accounts committee, which is chaired by the official opposition. The chairman did an outstanding job, I have to say. He did not try to give preference to the official opposition during the proceedings. Instead, he tried to stick to existing criteria.

Since the chairman of the public accounts committee was a member of our party, I would obviously have liked to have preferential treatment and to get a little more time during the proceedings. But we followed the rules on allocation of time in committee.

There is room for improvement in the committees, and some procedures could also be improved. However, did Reform members make any constructive suggestions in that regard? In any case, in the committees I sit on, and especially in the government operations committee, I never saw nor heard any Reform member try to improve our operations. This is not to say that everything is perfect, far from it, but within the committee everyone is allowed to express one's view.

Problems can arise when the time comes to table in the House a report on a committee; there too there might be room for greater information and above all improvement.

All committee members should be able to talk to each other, to have certain discussions, instead of constantly complaining that nothing works. This is how to improve things.

As we know, the Reform Party wanted to change Canada. Let us look at what it has been doing for the last three years. In my opinion, it has not succeeded in changing much, except, as I heard the hon. member for Vancouver North say this morning, for turning the House into a spectacle, into a farce.

I do not have to go back very far. Since the House resumed its work this week, what has happened here? We got to hear the same old stories, stories that took up a lot of the time of the House, that

kept members away from dealing with the real problems Canadians have. They used anything and everything to make a spectacle of this House.

We avoided true debate on job creation. We avoided talking about family trusts. Those are the issues people want to hear about. I find this morning's debate pointless. Why is this issue being raised again? Why challenge the Bloc Québécois' legitimacy as the official opposition and refuse to go by the rules of the Canadian parliamentary system? The voice of democracy has been heard.

It is as a result of a democratic process, namely the last election, that the Bloc Quebecois, which has been mandated to protect the interests of all Quebecers in this House and has, until now, fulfilled its mandate in an honourable and dignified manner, became the official opposition. Why is its legitimacy always put in question by the same people, the same political party?

I can understand that there is some frustration, but at one point they have to get over that kind of frustration. They have to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I think that is still beyond the Reform Party. Why lose time on a pointless debate on procedure, that means nothing to Canadians, that will not change the way things are done and that will bring no improvements whatsoever, when we have so much to do?

Of course, they will blame it all on the separatists. But that is not the case. In committee, we have constantly made suggestions to the government, ever since it was elected in 1993, and we will continue to do so. We want to represent with dignity the people who elected us, my constituents and each and every Quebecer. That is how things should be done. If something needs to be corrected, we should go through the existing channels, make suggestions, hold discussions and things will improve.

Let me conclude by asking the following question: What have the members of the Reform Party done to improve the system? In my view, not a thing. I agree with my party's whip. So, "until the next time".

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REF

Margaret Bridgman

Reform

Ms. Margaret Bridgman (Surrey North, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment and also ask a question of the hon. member.

The hon. member talks about democracy, structures, a waste of time and these kinds of things. In debate previous to this, reference was made to the same thing. I suggest to the member that Parliament has roles. I agree that we are elected and we come. The bulk of the members form the government and subsequently down the opposition.

I suggest very strongly that the role of the opposition is to critique. The third party is doing that. We do not see that coming from the official opposition. Someone has to do that regardless of what his or her mandate is. We also have to address the mandate of the House. That is in the traditional structure of this place.

He also mentioned that we have structures by which we function. I suggest that structures are human made and they can be changed. It is not necessary to continue to use something forevermore amen because it happens to be a structure that is in place. It is the role of the opposition to critique that structure and make it function as well as possible in today's environment.

I ask the hon. member if he feels that it is not a democratic principle to critique these things and bring to them a modern day concept of what is happening. The rest of Canada's citizens are asking us to do that and not just say it is a waste of time.

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September 19, 1996