Mr. John Bryden (Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, it is quite an honour to rise in the House for my final speech just after the tributes to the hon. member for Calgary Centre.
Before I go into a discussion of the subject before the House, I would like to build on a remark of the right hon. member for Calgary Centre. He was saying how this place reflects Canada. My time in the House is much less than that of the right hon. member for Calgary Centre. I have only been here 11 years. However, I can say that it has been a wonderful experience and I have learned something that outsiders perhaps would not really appreciate or appreciate in the same sense as we who serve here, and that is, how very human the House is.
I have found, whether I am on this side or that side, my colleagues to be people who are motivated by sometimes the highest principles and sometimes by the most human principles. We have everything here from debates concerning the grand issues of the nation and the grand issues of the world, to the expression of petty personal and political rivalries.
That latter point is important. What makes this place work--in my opinion after the years I have been here--is the fact that it is so human. It is not just the strengths of people that we see here; it is also our weaknesses. That is terribly important because in a true democracy the human psyche has to be represented in the House. Otherwise we would have an elite.
If Parliament were to select members of Parliament based on their education only, or based on their experience, or on their ability to speak in the House, then we would not have the kind of democracy that this country is so fortunate to have.
It has been genuinely a pleasure here. I am impressed by the fact that, unlike any other democracy I know, the happenings in the House are watched by the nation. We are genuinely a real drama that is followed by Canadians from one end of the land to the other. We have television cameras. We have the scrum after question period. These are all the things that bring parliamentarians before the people.
What is so great and important is that we do not have to be a cabinet minister, and we do not have to be a prime minister to have an effect on the nation. We do not have to be anything more than a member of the House.
This gives me an opportunity to actually mention one of the things that has always bothered me. It is the suggestion that there is some kind of democratic deficit in this Parliament. It is something that the current Prime Minister has commented on or suggested, and also the former leader of the reform party. I remember away back in 1993-94, he was constantly saying that Parliament was broken.
This Parliament is not broken. Any shortcomings that occur here are shortcomings that belong to we who serve here. Anyone, and I like to think I am an example, has an opportunity to speak out in this place, to speak out in caucus, and to promote those items of legislation or those causes that are near and dear to them.
I do not think there is another country in the world in which that type of opportunity is afforded ordinary individuals who become ordinary MPs. I think it is an absolutely marvellous thing.
As always, I always try to take advantage of the time I have in the House. Even though this is my last occasion before the election to speak in this Chamber, I am not going to say goodbye because I am not a person who says goodbye. I like to think that, whether I am here after the next election or not, I will be haunting the corridors of the House in some way or another.
I will use the opportunity of my time here today to promote one of the things that I as a backbencher have been working on for years. That is access to information reform. The reason why it is relevant is the debate we have before us today involves the sponsorship program and the investigation that has taken place over many months, using the public accounts committee and, if I may say so, an investigation in which I took part two years ago.
The bottom line to me in this whole question of transparency and accountability is changing the protocols to make it impossible for this type of situation that we see in the sponsorship program to occur ever again, where it would appear that documents are not in the file, things have gone missing, and we have a senior bureaucrat who declares that one of the reasons why he did not keep the appropriate records was because he was afraid of the Access to Information Act. I fear that in the debate before public accounts, this point, this tangent shall we say, of transparency and accountability, which is the need to reform and elaborate on the Access to Information Act, has so far been lost.
I will remind members that two weeks ago in this chamber, this House voted on private member's Bill C-462, a bill sponsored by myself, which is a comprehensive reform of the Access to Information Act. It is a product of many years of work. It is a product of backbench MPs working together on all sides of the House. There is a lot of expertise in this bill. Because of that and because of the will of the House, it was passed at second reading by a unanimous vote of 198 to zero. That sends a very strong message from this House about where we as backbench MPs, where we as every MP, stand on transparency and accountability. Where we stand is that we now know it must come forward.
Now, here is my problem. I have sponsored the bill, and the bill is before the House. An election is coming and there seems to be a very strong probability, if not a certainty, that I will not be returned. Consequently, I will not be there to promote in the next Parliament my access to information bill, which I believe is absolutely in the interests of this House, this Parliament and the country.
Therefore, what I am saying to the members gathered here in the House is to remember, if I am not here, that access to information reform is a backbench initiative, a torch if you will, that has to be taken up by other backbench MPs. I believe the groundwork is covered. I believe the will of Parliament is there. I believe that the leadership on all sides of the House and the leadership in the civil services are behind the legislation, and so I do hope it goes forward, and I will be content. It is not necessary to have one's name attached to a bill. It is not necessary to have one's name attached to any initiative that is positive and in the public interest in the House. The important thing is that it be done.
Let me end on one final note so that people watching can perhaps understand a little more about what motivates us here, what motivates us on all sides of the House when we are at our best. The thing is that we as parliamentarians here, be we ministers, prime ministers or backbench MPs, have an opportunity to change the lives of Canadians and we have the opportunity to change the lives of people who we will never know and never see. I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is the highest form of charity, the highest form of good, not simply to help people whom we can see and get the satisfaction in our hearts and souls because we have made their lives better, but the really greatest good is to do something in this House that will help people we will never see, but that makes the lives of Canadians better.