March 8, 1962 (24th Parliament, 5th Session)


Walter George Pitman

New Democratic Party

Mr. Walter Pitman (Peterborough):

this debate began, I thought the bill was a very simple one. I was going to congratulate the hon. member for Bonavista-Twillingate upon introducing it because I think the measure is very much needed in our democratic system. I must say that since the last member spoke I have become more and more confused. I think we are getting near reincarnation now because I have not been able to understand how a member of parliament can ask for a by-election in his own constituency, especially when by-elections usually occur after the death of a member. It seems to me we have become involved in a whole area of trouble because of the apparent lack of efficiency of our undertakers in terms of getting our members of parliament buried before this by-election can take place.
Surely, we are dealing with the rights of the people in the constituency. I think one of the speakers had a point when he said that the people in the constituency had rights. It is not the right of a few supporters of the government party, whichever party that might be, to decide upon the date of the election. We have a situation where perhaps 100 or 200 people in a constituency have the right to make the decision for all the people in that constituency. I do not believe this is sound in terms of our parliamentary democratic tradition. Nor do I think it is very sound to assume that the government party, no matter which party that might be, should be able to delay the election over a long period of time, to wait until unemployment decreases or until the economy begins to rise before deciding on the date of the by-election. All of us in this house know to what extent a by-election becomes a means of

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judging a political party or an opposition party in terms of its performance in this house or in the country.
Perhaps, as the hon. member for Bonavista-Twillingate mentioned, this bill is a first step towards remedying the situation. I would expect that, as a second step, perhaps the hon. member would introduce another bill by means of which we would be able to set a time limit on the government's ability to postpone a by-election. Perhaps we would have the opportunity then of having the election within five months after the death of a member. As one who did come into this house on a by-election, I can assure hon. members of the difficulties which exist in a constituency which has no member. I think the by-election was called in fairly short order in the federal riding of Peterborough. However, there was a tremendous backlog of problems. Veterans become very much concerned about pensions when they cannot seem to get through to the right person. Many of the people have problems. I am sure every member in this house finds five or ten letters a day on his desk. When you multiply this by the number of days a constituency is left without a member of parliament, you can well imagine the frustration created for a great many people in a constituency.
I think we can put this discussion on a very high level. I thought I heard the hon. member for Trinity mention, no taxation without representation. Certainly this is one of the great strongholds of our democratic tradition, that is the tradition that all the people must have the right to decide, through their representatives, on the taxes to be imposed on them. I sincerely hope that this bill will come to a vote tonight and all hon. members will have an opportunity to take another step towards making our parliamentary democracy more democratic.

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