September 19, 1996

BQ

Gilbert Fillion

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Fillion

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. I will answer this: When we want to change things, when we want to improve things, we have to work within the system, to discuss, to negotiate.

During this Parliament, committees operate in a way they never did before. So there is room for improvement and there is still time to act.

Now, as far as the Bloc Quebecois' role as official opposition is concerned, I must say that it plays that role fully, on top of its mandate, which is to defend the interests of Quebecers. Whenever the interests of Quebecers are at stake, we have solutions to suggest, we question the government, whatever the subject, whether it concerns what happened in Somalia, what is happening on the job creation front, what is going on with respect to family trusts or what is going on in the different committees.

In the committees, there are certain stands with which the Bloc Quebecois disagrees. On such occasions, we criticize and play our role as official opposition fully.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. Some members who have arrived recently may be wondering exactly what is going on in the House.

We are debating a motion which has to do with a report tabled by one of the House committees. Pursuant to the rules of this place, after the adjournment for the summer all committees have to be reconstituted. We need to have chairs, vice-chairs and the membership of all committees reassessed and reaffirmed by each of the parties. That report has come before this place for adoption.

Normally what would happen is that the report would be tabled during Routine Proceedings and a motion to accept that report

would be put. Then, by unanimous consent of the House, the report would be adopted and committees could proceed with their work.

That is not what is happening now. The motion to concur in the report of this committee and to accept the structure of the membership of the various committees of the House of Commons is being debated. It is being debated not because the government wanted to debate the work of that committee but because the Reform Party decided it wanted to take up some time of this place to talk about its wish list and to do a little whining.

Reformers want to talk about how awful it is that they did not form a government after the last election. They want to talk about how awful it is that they are not in charge of this place. One of the previous speakers made the point that they just do not understand democracy. So we are here and will be having this debate for four hours.

The point of the Reform motion is that there is a lot of wasted time here. Right now 295 members of Parliament are hung up, unable to do any work whatsoever in this place for four hours. Committees cannot even hold meetings because they are not officially constituted. They are waiting for this motion to be passed.

The hypocritical arguments of the Reform Party to this point are blatantly evident. The Reform Party does not even think it is important enough to participate in debate or to follow the debate.

Although this is a waste of time we have to go through it. Yet the issue here should not be a partisan debate on whether the Reform Party's views or the government's views or the views of any other party in this place are okay.

Madam Speaker, if you had been here last night you would have heard the very interesting speech of the member for Gander-Grand Falls which reflected what should be happening in this place.

We were here until after 11 p.m. last night dealing with House business. A number of members were doing other work, making calls and getting ready for a vote that was to be taken, but when the member for Gander-Grand Falls rose in his place to give a brief intervention, people stopped and listened. Not only did they stop and listen out in the lobbies, they came into the Chamber and they took their places because they wanted to hear what was being said and they wanted to participate in the event.

The event was a barn burner of a speech. People were listening. People watching television I know were listening because here was a long time member of Parliament who is not a member of the cabinet, who is not a parliamentary secretary, who is not I do believe a chairman of any committee, but he is one of the most eloquent debaters in this entire House. People listen to what he has to say.

The point is, he is a member who is a model for all members. He is a member who is working as hard as he can to do one thing: to improve the image of people in political life, to improve the image of members of Parliament not only in this place but at home in their communities and as they travel across this country. Probably the most important work of any member of Parliament is to make their contribution in whatever way they are capable of, to improve the productivity, the image and credibility of this place like the member for Gander-Grand Falls does.

One of the important issues that has to be accepted in this place is that a majority government was elected in the last election. In some respects that is a curse to a government. A government that has a majority has complete control of the House. Democracy makes it so with the majority of the members in the House, provided they maintain solidarity among that team. They all ran for a party, they all ran for a platform and they are here to deliver on their promises. As long as that government is true to itself and true to its platform to the best of its ability and within its control, then it has the control of this place. It has the control to the extent that when issues come up and votes are taken, the government with a majority will win the vote. It is a quirk of democracy in that a majority government is fully in control of the aspects of this House.

That is a very frustrating position to be in, not only from the opposition party standpoint, but also for backbench members of Parliament who are one of a very large number of members of a caucus. It is very difficult for all members in this place to fully participate to the extent that opposition members do.

If you look at the news on any one night, the clips of the action in this House that were taken for the news will be of opposition members. An opposition member will get up and say: "The minister over there was just protecting his own sorry butt" and that gets on television. Another member will point their finger and make some rhetorical comment and that is on the news.

All members of Parliament regardless of whether they are on the government side or the opposition side, if they are doing their job effectively, if they are taking advantage of the opportunities available to them, have ample opportunity to demonstrate to Canadians what their salt is in this place, what their value is and whether or not they respect this place. This place must be respected.

I want to point out that we have four hours to debate a motion which is just going to review old arguments. This debate could not have taken place without the unanimous consent of the House. The Reform Party, the Bloc and members on this side of the House gave

unanimous consent. If Reform Party members were really so agitated about what was going on, they would look at all of the aspects of the operations of this House in which unanimous consent is asked for and required.

There was one this morning when the parliamentary secretary rose to give a speech. Somebody realized that he was the mover of the motion and in fact was deemed to have spoken and technically should not have been speaking. The House was asked for unanimous consent to waive the rule and allow him to speak. The Reform Party accepted. It could have said no and he would have had to sit down and we would have moved on to the next speaker.

If members of Parliament who have a problem with the process would look very carefully, they would find that there are ample opportunities for them to direct the activities within this House, if they would only exercise them. However they do not.

I will tell the House why members of Parliament do not take advantage of the opportunities they have to direct the activities within this House. It is because it is clear to all members of Parliament here that regardless of political stripe and regardless of views on the issues, it is in our best interests, in the best interests of our constituents and in the best interests of all Canadians that we co-operate and make sure that this place is operating efficiently and that we are dealing with issues which are important to Canadians.

It means from to time to time members from all sides of the House have to co-operate. Therefore, we make deals. We co-operate with each other. We say: "We will allow you to have this debate this morning but listen, we have to get our committees working. Therefore, why do we not agree to let this debate go forward and instead of for the full day let us cut off the debate?" The Reform agreed, the Bloc agreed and the House agreed. We are going to at least limit this so that the vote on the motion can be taken before the House and the committees can go back to work this afternoon. That is co-operation and work.

Committees are an interesting beast. Someone said earlier that committees are where the real work takes place. That is absolutely true. As a backbench member of Parliament, I want to personally attest to the fact that it is in committees where the real work, the strong work, the intelligent work, the work which applies the experience and expertise of members of Parliament really comes into play.

When I have an opportunity to address the House, it is a very honourable and awe inspiring occasion. It is always a great honour to be able to speak in this Chamber. However, whenever I speak in this Chamber, the Chamber is generally empty. There are usually about 10 people in the House. I look up in the galleries and try to sense what the people are thinking: "Gee, there are not too many people down there. Where is everybody? We pay for 295 members of Parliament. Where are they?"

We all know that right now many members of Parliament are making calls to constituents, writing letters, meeting people in their offices or at committee meetings. Things are going on on Parliament Hill all the time. We do not all have to be here. As a matter of fact we do not all have to participate in the debate on every issue. That would be tremendously unproductive for the House of Commons.

Therefore, we have a committee system. We have a committee system where hopefully each of the parties has assigned to their committees representatives from their parties who they feel have appropriate experience, expertise or certain things to contribute to the activity of that committee. It is in their best interests that the views of their party and the views of their constituents who are represented by those members are brought to bear at committee which is where it really happens.

I had the honour to chair a parliamentary committee on a drug bill. It went on for a year. I enjoyed the opportunity to lead a group of my colleagues through a very complex bill, as it ultimately turned out to be. I think we came back with some 70 amendments to a drug bill which dealt with all kinds of very interesting problems.

Being a member of the health committee, having served as an associate on the finance committee, having participated to some extent on the industry committee, I have had an opportunity to move around through various committees. I had an opportunity to make a contribution and to participate in the debate, to participate in the questioning of witnesses and to help focus on the relevant issues to the matter before that committee.

It is easy to say that committees are free to do what they want to do. Technically, that is true. The parliamentary secretary quoted earlier from the first line of Beauchesne's which basically says that the rules, the limits and the principles articulated in the rules of this place are there to protect the rights of minorities. It means that things like unanimous consent are required. Even if there is a majority government, if we co-operate, that means we can be productive.

One of the most important changes that has happened in this House to make it a productive place was the change which was made and introduced by the government House leader with regard to voting procedures. We have had literally hundreds of votes in this place. In a vote it takes about 10 minutes to call the roll of the members. If we wanted to grind this place to a halt, consent should not be given to have any votes in this place without calling the roll each and every time.

Whoever says no to unanimous consent will do so at their peril because Canadians will quickly understand that the House is going

through a process that is not productive. We agree on a number of things and that means we can apply votes. It means that we can express the will of our constituents, of our parties or of our individual views.

We have had cases where ordinary members have voted in a way contrary to their own party. They voted their own views. We have had free votes. I am very grateful that the government has extended free votes on certain issues to its caucus. The other parties have done the same or similar things. They respect the values, the interests and opinions of their own members because there are certain issues that are not partisan issues. They are personal issues. They reflect social and personal values that someone holds very dear.

We will not force people to simply be lemmings that run and jump off the cliff if somebody says to jump off the cliff. Members have more integrity. We are here trying to improve the optics of the House of Commons, the integrity and the view of the integrity and image of people in political life.

This is a very honourable profession. It is a great honour to be here serving people. We all know that we give up a great deal to be here because we feel we have something to contribute. Most if not all members are giving up valuable family time to be here. Many members who live far away from Ottawa and who travel extensively to get home give up a lot of their own personal time to be here representing people because they feel strongly about it.

We know that nobody takes this job to get rich. Members do not get rich. Most members I know made a better living in terms of income in their former lives. I know many of the members. Look at their history. Look at what they have done in their communities. They have been involved at the grassroots level, at the local level of politics, at the provincial level and territorial level. They have been involved in raising money for causes they feel strongly about. They have track records and they are here because of those track records. They are here because they have experience and expertise that their constituents felt was important to bring to this place.

People have made that contribution as members of Parliament and we respect that. I hope each an every one of us is making progress, ensuring that our constituents and Canadians we encounter know we are doing the best that we can to improve the image of people in political life.

Having said that, is it good? We have seen the polls on what it is to be a member of Parliament and where we rank. It is very low. There is very little respect for people who are in political life. It is unfortunate. It has taken about 25 years to get there and it will probably take as long, if not longer, to earn back a measure of the respect we need in this place.

To get back to the issue of committees, some have suggested that we really should have certain parties as vice-chairs or whatever. I can tell of my experience in committees. I would not want to be a vice-chair. If a person cannot be the chair and at least have some control over the timing of the meeting and have an opportunity to apply one's wisdom, then I would rather be an ordinary member of the committee and be able to participate. f I had a choice and could pick what would be the best position for me I would rather be a member of the official opposition on a committee. The normal procedures and the rules of the House are that members of the official opposition get to ask the first questions of witnesses and make the first interventions. They get to ask all the good questions. They get to set the tempo and some of the focus of the committee meeting. Then it goes to the third party. By the time it gets around to government members in committee, there are few substantive matters to be dealt with. Very often, as we all know, time runs short because we only have a half an hour for a witness. Time runs out and government members do not even get a chance to participate. There are some awkward things.

However, we have made progress in making this a more open place. As long as the opposition parties are going to be given unanimous consent, I will be comforted to see that unanimous consent coming forward. It continues to remind me that we all have to co-operate in this place. We do from time to time get into situations like this because we have to keep our feet on the ground and say: "Let us get a little bit of that partisan stuff in there".

I have tried not to make this a partisan speech. I respect my colleagues in this House. I do not agree with them on many issues but I respect their right to have a different opinion and I respect the opportunity to be able to continue to express my opinion in this place.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith (Surrey-White Rock-South Langley, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the member for Mississauga South a question. He spoke about respect for parliamentarians and that the public needs to re-establish respect for the people who have chosen to serve their country in this manner.

I would like to ask the member how the public can respect members of Parliament and members of committee when often times we see that the chairpersons or other members of the committee do not respect the member of Parliament's right to represent his or her own opinion rather than that of the party in committee? Is that not something we should be dealing with? That person is there representing Parliament, not necessarily a political party, and he or she should be given the freedom to say what he or she thinks openly, rather than being controlled by the party whip. Is that not required as respect for that member in committee?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Szabo

Madam Speaker, the member raises a very good question. However, the member would agree that it does not get back to the issue of what are the implications to the House of Commons and to Parliament if a majority government is elected.

If I were in the Reform's position, I probably would share their frustration to some extent in certain aspects, for instance committees. If there is legislation or issues that the committee has decided to deal with and the government policy or platform is articulated and specific, the government members of the committee will support the platform on which they ran. They will support the legislation they are dealing with or they will support the opinion articulated by the party for which they ran.

Notwithstanding what the Reform or the Bloc or even other Liberal members have to say in committee, with a majority government situation there is no question that by and large the decisions made by that committee reflect the government position.

There are cases where very important changes have been made and very important points have been raised in committee. Committee is where the work happens. I know that the member has been very active in the justice committee. I know that this member and many other members working in committee do make very positive contributions and consultations in committee.

As was suggested earlier, I wish that more committees could have their proceedings televised so that Canadians could see all members at work. What happens in this place happens in about 45 minutes during question period. That is where the theatre is. Canadians think that what they see during question period is what happens all day long in this place. It is not.

In fact this place is a forum for the opposition parties. I recall when a colleague from a long time ago asked the rhetorical question: "What is the role of the opposition?" Somebody blurted out: "The role of the opposition is to deliver blows that would tenderize a turtle".

It was a rhetorical question and a flip answer. But in this place when there is a majority government, that majority government is in a position to either deal with matters straight up or to have a little fun with them. Government members will be held accountable when they go back to the electorate. A majority government which is in control day after day is fully responsible for its decisions and for the results of those decisions. It means that even at committee the government still must call the shots. It is the one that is responsible, not the opposition parties.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Daphne Jennings

Reform

Mrs. Daphne Jennings (Mission-Coquitlam, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I would like to comment on what the hon. member said and perhaps question him at the same time.

He speaks of progress in the committees. This is my first Parliament, so I would not be aware exactly what progress he is talking about. I am concerned that when the election of vice-chairs for instance is not an open and democratic process, where is the progress in that? We have ample proof that it is not. I am not going to waste the time of the members giving them examples for which I have facts. I would like the hon. member's comment on that.

I would also like his comment on this. I know that in the last Parliament that third parties had vice-chairs. Why is that not the case now? I know who it was too and that party only had 44 members in the House. Why could the third party in the House not have vice-chairs on the committees? That would be fair and progressive. If we are talking about progress that would certainly be progressive.

I am also concerned about the democratic process when a bill has been voted unanimously in the House of Commons and it is non-partisan. I hear this member talking considerably about partisanship. This particular bill was non-partisan. It was presented that way. When it went to committee it was voted down completely and buried. It was voted down in such a way that it could not come back to the House. The committee would not return it to the House. Yet technically and procedurally that bill was considered alive. It stymied anything that the member, who is working hard for non-partisan interests, could do.

When the bill came back to the House because of the prorogation last February the same thing happened. It went to committee and it was voted down, and would not be returned to the House. That is not a democratic process. We must do something to change it. I would like this member to give me his comments on this. How can we change it?

I happen to have a motion in. I put it in last June so it is far ahead of what we have been doing this last two weeks. We must address these concerns.

Third, I have suggested to those who are in charge of committees that when any information comes in from witnesses it is given to the member whose bill is on the committee agenda at that time. In fact, it must be given to the member whose bill is being discussed at that time or that member is at a disadvantage. I have also addressed that to those who are in charge of committees.

Could this member please comment on those three items?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, with regard to the vice-chairs issue, I understand that Reform would like to have people in the position of vice-chairs. They well know that committees have two vice-chairs, one is the government vice-chair and then there is the official opposition vice-chair. That is the pattern we have had.

If the chair is not there, the government vice-chair takes over. If the government vice-chair is not there, then it would go to the official opposition vice-chair. That happens so rarely that in my view having a vice-chair position is actually a disadvantage. The opposition members who would not be in the chair would get an opportunity to question witnesses. I do not see it as a significant issue.

I understand parliamentary tradition. It is frustrating but I do not see it as a problem.

With regard to private members' bills I agree. The member will know that I have a similar situation with a bill, Bill C-222, on health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages. It was dealt with at subcommittee. But the subcommittee did not take a vote on the bill. Rather, it referred it back to the main committee and said let us continue to study it. It is at committee now. It may never come out which is very frustrating.

The issue here is private members' business. I would support the reform of the selection of bill for private members' business. I do not believe we should be debating bills that do not qualify as votable. If a bill is frivolous there is no point in taking up the time of the House by talking for an hour about it. A bill which does not merit being votable should not go through the process.

For any bill that is passed at second reading and referred to committee, I do not support the committee failing to report the bill to the House. At least it should report that it has decided the bill has no merit. Then the House would have an opportunity to determine whether it shared that view. That would be an important clarification which I would support.

With regard to witnesses, it sounds like a technical matter. Anyone who has business before this House or a subcommittee should be privy to all documents. That is something the member could work out herself.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Myron Thompson

Reform

Mr. Myron Thompson (Wild Rose, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to join this debate. When I first ran for Parliament in 1993, I had a couple of real concerns about the preceding years. It seemed like the will of the people had not been heeded on many occasions. The Trudeau government began an era with all kinds of legislation being forced on the people of Canada although they objected to it.

When the will of the people guides the politicians we have a democracy. We do not have that, which is the problem with this place and this country and which is also the reason I am here. Instead, we have the will of the politicians who make decisions that affect the people, even if those decisions are against the wishes of Canadians. In my view that is tyranny, and that is what we have to break.

I find it amusing to hear the Bloc members debating the issue of democracy when they will not even honour a referendum of their own people that said no to separation. I wonder what part of no they do not understand. This was the result not once but twice. And they are talking about democracy. I find that kind of amusing.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Garry Breitkreuz

Reform

Mr. Breitkreuz (Yorkton-Melville)

Sadly amusing.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Myron Thompson

Reform

Mr. Thompson

Sadly amusing.

We are talking about the committees today. As I look about the room, I see the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce who was the chairman of the justice committee when I served on that committee. He did a very admirable job. He is a very fair individual.

However, I found it really discouraging. One day he chose to do what he felt he had to do as a politician, as a representative of some people, and voted a certain way. He is therefore no longer the chair of that committee.

One might say that those committees are supposed to be there for the benefit of parliamentarians. They will examine issues and do things right. We are going to put people in charge, in the chair positions, who are the most capable and the most able. I have found that is not so.

It is being used as a place of patronage if an MP is a good old boy or girl. If a member does not behave, they will be booted out and their position will be taken away.

I see another member in here from Scarborough whom I admired on that committee because of his ability to go through legislation in a legal manner that I am not capable of doing as an ex-educator. I relied on his statements and opinions that he put forward on that committee. He was a valuable instrument as far as I was concerned. One day he chose to go against somebody over there on a little decision. So out he goes. We do not need him there any more and instead we will shove in somebody else. Guess who we shove in? Maybe not anybody nearly as competent but somebody who will do as they are told.

When you have a government constantly telling the people running this country to sit down, be quiet and do as they are told or face punishment, that is wrong. I am going to do everything I can to inform the people of this county about what is going on. It is a dictatorship, not a democracy. The sooner the voters realize it the sooner these guys will be gone. That is what I am waiting for. I hope for the sake of my grandchildren that is exactly what does happen.

In 1993 the Liberal party put together a red book of promises to act on if it became a governing body. On page 92 it states:

In the House of Commons a Liberal government will give MPs a greater role in drafting legislation through House of Commons committees.

So much for that. How many of these pieces of legislation have received second reading approval in this House of Commons and go to the committee and there they lay? They were never brought back to the House to discuss. I find it absolutely deplorable that we are voting on Bill C-45 this week when about two years ago we had 78 members from that government vote to abolish section 745. Those same 78 will probably have to support Bill C-45 because a certain minister has said that is the way it will be.

That is a shame. Once upon a time they were in full support of a private member's bill that would abolish section 745 of the Criminal Code. Now we have a flip-flop. Why? The word must be out. You had better shape up. Is that what it is, you little puppets? When are you going to wake up and start being the men and women you were sent here to be and represent the people of Canada?

That statement of page 92 has turned out to be nothing more than a red ink book lie, another broken promise. They ought to be ashamed. It is a farce going through the motions. I felt like all we were doing on that justice committee was going through the motions day after day. One member from the government asked a while ago who reads it. There were some very conscientious workers from the Liberal government on that justice committee who tried their best to make some important changes. Consequently they will probably not be on that committee again under these social engineers we have on the front row of today's government.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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?

An hon. member

There is nobody here today.

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Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Myron Thompson

Reform

Mr. Thompson

We will use our imagination. That is what they use all the time.

There is a rule that we could follow. I talked to the chairman of our committee, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and I said the member from Calgary Northeast and John Edwards, the past commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, and I visited the University of Alberta. We met with some researchers in their department who gave us some very strong messages: "We must get our message to the Parliament of Canada, it is essential for the safety of Canadians". I talked to the chairman of the committee and he suggested I put it on a letter and send it to the committee requesting that particular researching group to appear before a committee to tell it what they had found out because they were unable to get the ear of the government. Even Mr. Edwards indicated from his visit to the committee that this information should be brought to our attention and that it could be extremely important.

On April 27, 1995 I wrote a letter to the chairman of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. I did not even get an acknowledgement, and I am on the committee. I did not get this before the steering committee for even a suggestion that we consider it. Nothing whatsoever happened to this.

I asked the next chairman to review this, look at it and he said: "What letter? What request? I have no idea what you are talking about". In 1995 the researchers told us that if something is not done about what we are finding out, in the very near future, within the next year or two, we will see a major increase in HIV in the prisons across this land. We could do something about it but we have to have the ear of the government. You try to do that through a committee where you are supposed to. Not a chance.

They are going to get the ear of the government because I am going to the press. We will get it out. I am going to the researchers and they are going to join me. The message will get out. They have been ignored.

Suddenly last week we see a huge increase in HIV and hepatitis C in the prisons because a non-democratic body of people are not interested in what the opposition has to say. I say opposition is right here, not there. They are in with the Liberals on so many pieces of legislation they ought to have a copy of the red book to go along with the other propaganda they read.

I hope the Canadian people will wake up one day and realize what kind of people are operating this country. It is not a democratic group. We need a change.

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REF

Garry Breitkreuz

Reform

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton-Melville, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I served on the human resources development committee for two years after being elected to Parliament. I would like to recount a bit of my experience on that committee and ask the hon. member for Wild Rose to comment.

One of the first things the government mandated that committee to do was consult Canadians. We were instructed to make a cross-Canada tour to find out how social programs should be changed, reformed and modernized.

As a young rookie parliamentarian I felt that was very important thing we needed to do. One of the reasons I was elected was to change and modernize Canada's social programs. Canadians wanted to preserve some of their most valuable social programs and so I participated in that complete tour. We went across Canada and consulted for over six weeks. We amassed volumes and volumes of material on what Canadians wanted to do. I was excited about the possibilities of what could be done.

The tour cost millions of dollars. We went from Yukon to Newfoundland to consult Canadians about what the wanted to do with unemployment insurance, pensions, welfare, health and all

the areas under this entire umbrella. It was virtually half of government spending.

Canadians told us very clearly what they wanted to do with unemployment insurance. That was one of the special interests I had on this. Canadians wanted unemployment insurance to again be a true insurance program. They wanted a lot of the things the government had put into that program taken out and made a true insurance program with employers and employees having a much greater say in how the funds would be managed.

I was most disappointed when at the end of this tour the minister completely disregarded what the committee had done. The minister completed disregarded the input Canadians had through that committee.

I was shocked at the amount of money that was wasted. All of this material was simply shoved away. I do not know what room it was put in but it would have taken a fairly large room to house all of the submissions that people, in good faith, thought were going to be heard by this government. It was completely disregarded. This was a farce, as my colleague said.

The government claims it will listen to the committees, that the committees will be effective and have an influence on the agenda. There is concrete proof that absolutely nothing was done. This committee process was an absolute joke. The government completely disregarded the report and the recommendations that were made.

A government that claims that the committees will be effective and which made that promise in its red book has completely reneged on that. I am very concerned that it continues to give the impression that through the committees effective changes will be made to legislation. That is not happening. I have been an eye witness to the waste of money and time these committees are because Canadians do not have a say even when the government tries to give the impression that it is consulting.

Would the hon. member have any comments with regard to that? I think it is a serious matter which I have not heard addressed. However, it continues to go on behind the scenes all the time.

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REF

Myron Thompson

Reform

Mr. Thompson

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I do agree. I know what he is talking about. He is talking about a group of people who have been put together to go through the motions.

The decisions on all of these issues are already made. They are made behind the closed door of the minister's office. That has been evident over and over again in the last three years. The decision is made but they go through the motions and pretend that the committee is really having some input and the Canadian people are really having some input. It is all a joke.

On January 16, 1994-I will never forget the day-the social engineer from the justice department, our justice minister, said: "Get your submissions in for the Young Offenders Act". I can tell this House that they came from all across the land, thousands and thousands of them, including my own. They arrived in that minister's office and then the committee was struck. We then got Bill C-37 which was approved by this House.

Guess what? After all that work, the committee is going to tour around and see what the people want to do with the Young Offenders Act. It is a joke, a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith (Surrey-White Rock-South Langley, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I have sat on several committees and would like to support my colleague by saying there have been some good chairpersons from the government side who have taken on their role very judiciously. However, I have also sat on a committee that broke the rules and changed the membership to accomplish what it wanted accomplished, which was to kill a report from the subcommittee on national security.

This committee met, and I will only use the 1995 year, for seven months. It spent over 35 hours hearing witnesses and preparing a report. During this time the member for Scarborough West was a member of the government and led the government's attack or representation on dealing with a report from SIRC, the security intelligence review committee, that we were reviewing.

This individual put hours of research and represented the government in what I thought was a very competent manner. He has a very astute legal mind and offered a lot in the discussions and debates on this report. As I said, the committee members sat for over 35 hours listening and cross-examining the witnesses to get as much information out as we could.

The members of the committee, which included the Bloc member and the Reform member, got to the fourth draft of a report on September 8. This report was being prepared to be introduced and tabled in the House of Commons by the end of that month.

However, lo and behold, one of the other members of this committee, obviously on instruction from the party and the government, which the member for Windsor-St. Clair who maybe had not understood the issues but who participated in the discussion, had been involved in bringing this report to a fourth draft.

On September 19 the government made sure that this report would not go on, would not be tabled in the House of Commons. The government took the member for Scarborough West off the committee. He was the only government member who probably had actually read the report under discussion and knew anything about it and he was taken off the committee. The government

replaced him with an individual who had not sat for over 35 hours listening to witnesses with a chance to cross examine them.

The second meeting of this committee with the new members from the government side lasted for 10 minutes before they adjourned it. They waited until they had eaten the sandwiches. We met at suppertime because that was the only time we had available as busy MPs. They waited until they had filled their faces on the sandwiches and fruit before they adjourned the meeting because they did not want to address the report.

There was one government member who decided they would rewrite the report after the committee got to a fourth draft. The member for Windsor-St. Clair went away and rewrote the whole report without any input from the opposition members on the committee. What a farce.

The government, in order to keep this report from being tabled in the House of Commons, did not even respect their own member. It did not even respect the chair of that committee. The adjournment by his own party members was done without his knowledge. They adjourned our meeting early on three occasions in order not to deal with the issue. They did not even have the courtesy to tell the chairman who was representing the same party, the government party, that they were doing this.

It shows to me the absolute disregard and disrespect the government has for the independent operation of a committee to get down to the real work and to determine whether something is in the best interests of the people of this country.

It is about time the government realized that each one of us is here to give the best that we can, including the government's own members. If they happen to find something that is wrong and that should be brought to the attention of the government, they should be allowed to do that.

I have watched time over time this kind of interference by the government whip. I watched it in the justice committee when we were debating Bill C-41. Two Liberal members had gone through the process, had gotten replacements signed in to show up and sit down and the party whip came in and said: "No, you are not representing the government. Here are the replacements that we have approved".

There is total disregard for the process and the rules that are in place so that we as members of Parliament can do the job for the Canadian people in reviewing legislation in committee to make sure the end result is the best possible for the people of Canada.

I would suggest that the government has a long way to go before it is fulfilling its red book promise of giving more independence to committees, of giving more members of Parliament the ability to affect legislation and to help in the creation of legislation.

I am another private member who has a bill that made it through second reading in the House of Commons. Mine passed unanimously two years ago. It is sitting in the justice committee and has been for two years. The Minister of Justice introduced a bill on the same subject two years later. Why did the committee not deal with a private members' bill that was dealing with dangerous offenders and how to keep them off the streets of Canada? Two years ago that was passed unanimously by this House, placed into the committee and totally disregarded.

I would suggest that the tyranny of the majority which one of the Liberal members referred to earlier is precisely what this country has with the present government. Because this government has such a massive majority, it feels it has the right to totally disregard the rights of its own individual members of Parliament to represent the Canadian people in what they feel is right and just.

Anytime there is a critical review of something which may point out an issue or an area that the government should back away from or reconsider, it is disregarded. Maybe I have misread the position of the member but I thought we were all here to do the best job we can for the Canadian people and to make sure that those who follow us have the best legislation, the best rules to govern the country to make sure that it is a strong, vibrant and unified country in the years to come.

I do not see that our work in committees is allowing us to do that. I have seen interference by the government, not only on opposition members but on government members which is in contravention of the parliamentary system.

If the government wants to return to this House with any majority let alone a mass majority it had better pull up its socks and start listening to the Canadian people because it may not be given another chance.

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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, the member made a very good intervention. I am glad she was able to get all of her frustrations out. It is good to be able to express one's frustration at democracy. However, it is a contradiction because one cannot be frustrated with democracy.

The issue here is that a majority government is fully in control of the work and the decisions of the House of Commons by virtue of that majority. The electorate as a whole is going to hold the government fully accountable for the decisions and actions in this place, understanding fully that the opposition parties were not in a position to defeat anything.

The member raised issues about something that happened in the justice committee and talked about our work. I believe her quote was "our work" as a collective of the committee, as if the committee does not reflect a microcosm of this place. It is a partisan committee made up of partisan members and team members who represent their party's position. That means notwithstanding that the member has made good points, the ultimate decision is of the committee. The committee is controlled by the governing party with the majority and thereby transposing the responsibility, the government is responsible for each and every decision the committee makes and must be accountable to the people.

If the member feels that the committee's work and the end result of the decisions made and the amendments proposed and the bills supported or not supported were wrong and not in the best interests of Canadians, there will be an opportunity for those members in the next election.

The member should remember that the curse of a majority government is that it is deemed to be in control by all Canadians. It will be held fully accountable and what it does is at its own peril.

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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Meredith

Madam Speaker, I find it very interesting to hear a member of the Liberal Party say that the government is fully responsible for the decisions of the committee. In this case the member the government replaced on the committee was recognizing that there was a discrepancy in the information or the testimony of witnesses and questioned and challenged it. Because I had no support from the committee for recognizing there were discrepancies in testimony and that it should be challenged and questioned, I brought it to the House as a point of privilege.

I will quote from the Speaker in his ruling earlier this week: "However in my opinion this is a matter for debate and not a question of privilege. The member clearly has a dispute as to the facts presented to the committee. Should the member wish to return to the committee with the matter, and the committee ought to report to the House on this aspect of the question, the House at that time may choose to deal with it".

The committee refused to even deal with it in the report stage. That is why the member for Scarborough West was kicked off the committee. He recognized that the other members of the committee would not deal with that issue. I would suggest that the government is responsible for the decisions to help cover up.

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REF

Jim Silye

Reform

Mr. Jim Silye (Calgary Centre, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague what she really thinks about the selection of vice-chairs, especially only from the ranks of the separatist, break up the country party.

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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Meredith

Madam Speaker, the issue really is the openness, the ability for the members of the committee to choose the person they feel is best able to represent the opposition. I would suggest that there have been times when many of the government members would have liked to have supported a Reform Party member who was presented to them but were told not to.

The day that the Liberal members of these committees are given the freedom, and I mean full freedom, to select who they feel is best able to represent them, we will see some Reform Party members placed in the vice-chair positions.

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LIB

George Baker

Liberal

Mr. George S. Baker (Gander-Grand Falls, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I have just a few points concerning this debate.

What started it was the tabling of this excellent report by our whip, the hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, who is doing a fantastic job. He has been one of the best whips I would say in the history of this place. On the list of names of people serving on these committees, months of consultation have gone into preparing this list to make sure that members are on the committees they want to be on if possible.

All of a sudden, the Reform Party stands up in the House, frustrated by its own unpopularity, frustrated because the government is so far ahead in the polls, but mainly frustrated because of the Bloc. Under our system it is the Bloc, the official opposition, which has many of the privileges the Reform Party would like to have.

Here Reformers are today criticizing of all groups to criticize the Government of Canada for this lack of democracy, for this lack of accountability to the House of Commons, to the Canadian people, to this lack of power over the legislative process. There are only two functions of committees in the House of Commons under our system and they are accountability and the legislative function.

Is it not strange that they should be criticizing the very government in the entire history of this place which has allowed free votes not just on private members' bills, but also on government initiatives. If we investigated the mother of Parliaments, the British Parliament, I do not think we would find there such progressive actions as those by the Government of Canada, by the Prime Minister, under the present administration. It is historic. It has never been done before.

On top of that, with this new found power which has been given to members of Parliament on government bills and private members' bills, we have in this place the best accountability of any legislature under the British parliamentary system. I am referring to question period.

There is no other legislature in the world that has a question period that the ministers, the executive, have to attend to answer whatever questions are posed by the opposition parties- no other legislature in the world.

I will tell the House what we do have in the world. Perhaps the Reform Party would like to have this. Perhaps it would like us to become up to date like the British, the Australians or any other Parliament where one has to give notice of a question to a cabinet minister. The cabinet minister does not even have to be in the House every day. They are only called once every two weeks to come for a day to answer questions in the House, questions for which notice has been given.

Why have we retained this? We have retained this because the Government of Canada, particularly now, is in a situation with a separatist party as the official opposition. The Government of Canada has rejected the many suggestions from the academic community that we go the way the British and the Australians have gone where they have to give notice of every question and the cabinet ministers would not be confined to their places here in this House every day and be answerable to a complete free for all by the opposition parties.

The system we have works only if the accountability of the government is actually accomplished by the two main political parties in opposition, first the power given to the separatist party.

We can imagine why the Reform Party is rather frustrated. We have a system whereby one of the two main players in question period is a separatist party that is only interested in breaking up the country. That is its agenda. It is not interested in anything else. I do not think Bloc members are interested in anything else. When they sleep they dream about it. They plan it day after day: "What are we going to say in question period to break up the country?" Obviously that is not working in the best interest of Canada. Then there is the second party.

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?

An hon. member

Extremists.

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September 19, 1996