Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP)
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—St. Clair.
I welcome the debate before the House today and welcome the Conservative Party for catching up on one of my ideas. I tabled a motion in the House on February 11, 2004, calling for a fixed election date. Then, on the Order Paper on April 1, 2004, on April Fool's Day, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Conservative Party tabled a motion regarding a fixed election date. I am very glad that the Conservative Party is doing the same thing that we in the New Democratic Party initiated before.
Our party passed a resolution at our convention, which happened to have been held in Ottawa in 1999, calling for a fixed election and fixed budget dates. I also wrote an article in the National Post calling for a fixed election date and I think the date of that was November 12, 2000.
Our party has been on record now for quite awhile, including having had the first motion in the House on a fixed election date in support of the idea. I welcome the Conservatives onboard the train and therefore we will be supporting the motion before the House today.
The idea behind a fixed date is to take the power away from the Prime Minister, or indeed the premiers at the provincial level, to establish a date that is best to his or her liking in terms of the chances of being re-elected. In other words, we are trying to democratize the system to make it more fair, to create a level playing field, and to ensure things are more in balance for every point of view in the country.
Now we have a Prime Minister who talks about the democratic deficit. One way of alleviating part of that democratic deficit is by ensuring we have a fixed election date so the power of setting the date is out of the hands of the Liberal Party pollsters and the Liberal Prime Minister's advisers, and the Prime Minister himself. It would be put in statute so that we would all be on a level playing field and we would all have a fair chance at the date, whenever it is.
Currently, a prime minister or premier can set the date. If the government knows there is a financial crisis coming, there could be an election ahead of time. If there is a sponsorship scandal or some other scandal, one could delay the election from what was being planned, May 10. I do not think that is a closely guarded secret. The government could delay the election to what the Prime Minister's inclination is now, which is to announce the election a week Sunday for June 14. Some of his advisers are saying that maybe we should wait about a year and have it in May or June 2005.
These are all the games that are being played. These are also played at every provincial level as premiers and prime ministers set the date to find a window when they can win their respective election campaigns.
If we were serious about democratic reform, the democratic deficit in the country, we could start with a fixed election date so that no matter what happened, the date would occur every, say third Monday in June or October, or whatever date we fixed, unless the government fell in a confidence vote.
I think our party and the Alliance Party, now the Conservative Party, had made that very clear. I think the Bloc Quebecois said the same thing. If the government were to fall in a confidence vote then of course an election would take place. But, without that, there should be a fixed date. Many countries have fixed dates around the world and they work very well.
We have had the first steps toward a fixed date in our country. Premier Campbell of British Columbia, a couple of years ago, brought in a law and set the election date in B.C. four years hence. Everybody knows when the election in British Columbia will take place. I think it is sometime in 2005. I fully endorse the idea. It is put in statute so that the Premier of British Columbia, if he has a very major problem, cannot delay it or if he has a sudden jump in the polls cannot pull the election out of the hat six or seven months ahead of time. I think that is a wonderful idea.
I also want to place on the record something that is not very well known because it happened quite a few years ago in Saskatchewan. I know that the Conservative Party member for Brandon—Souris is fully aware of this. Tommy Douglas, who was the premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 until 1961, was elected in June 1944.
At the time he was elected there were a few conservative minded people, because it was the first democratic socialist government anywhere in North America that said there might not be any more elections. What Tommy Douglas said as premier was that there would be elections held every four years in the month of June. Therefore, we had elections in June 1944 when he was elected, June 1948, June 1952, June 1956 and June 1960. In 1961 he became leader of the federal New Democratic Party and his successor broke that pattern with an election in April 1964. After that elections have been held all over the map.
One of the things Tommy told me a few months before he died was that his one regret was that he did not put in statute that there had to be an election every four years in the month of June in Saskatchewan. As soon as he left, the convention he created disappeared with the premiers of our party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. Elections were then announced whenever the premier thought it was best for him in terms of electoral prospects.
That is why we support the motion before the House today. It is a move toward democratic reform. It is a move toward taking power away from the executive and the Prime Minister, and putting it into the hands of the people so that all parties and all competing points of view have an equal chance of an equal start in terms of a general election campaign.
I cannot imagine that happening in a sporting event. I see the member for Wild Rose here, who was a great baseball catcher years ago, if I am not mistaken. He knows that in sport everybody has to have an equal start and a fair chance, and play by the same rules. If one is in a foot race, everyone starts at the same place when the starter gun goes off and everyone hears the starter pistol. However, in this country and in every province, except British Columbia, the starter pistol is the hand of the premier or the hand of the prime minister. I think that is wrong.
I appeal to the Prime Minister if he is serious about democratic reform and democratic deficit. He should be announcing in Parliament, as soon as possible, that the next election date will be June 14, June 21, October, November or whatever. Every four years thereafter there would be an election campaign. If he were serious about democratic reform that is what he would do.
If he wants to do politics differently, that is what the Prime Minister should do. He should tell us the date ahead of time. All the law requires now is that there be a minimum notice. I believe it is 36 days. He could announce the election campaign 37 days ahead, or 47 days ahead, or a year ahead. The Premier of British Columbia announced it four years ahead. If the Prime Minister were a true reformer in terms of democratic deficit, that is what he would do.
What I have seen this new Prime Minister do has not been very democratic in many cases. He has actually appointed candidates to run in certain ridings in British Columbia. That is not democratic at all. I saw a Canadian citizen from Burnaby--Douglas, from the Liberal Party, crying on television because he campaigned for a nomination for months and sold hundreds of memberships for months, and now he is being denied an opportunity to run because the Prime Minister is going to appoint a friend, who is the president of the British Columbia Liberal Party, as the candidate in Burnaby--Douglas. The Prime Minister has already done that in two or three other British Columbia ridings.
There is an old saying that we should be careful when we criticize others too because it is not only the Liberal Party where these types of anti-democratic activities occur. There is probably no other Canadian politician I disagree with more than the former Conservative Premier of Saskatchewan, Grant Devine, who ran our province into huge debt and saw 16 members of his government convicted criminally.
I have a lot of criticism of him. He wanted to run for the new Conservative Party in the riding of Souris--Moose Mountain. He went out and campaigned for a nomination and sold memberships for nominations and the Conservative Party in Ottawa, from on high, denied him the right to seek the nomination. That is not right either. Every Canadian citizen, when they buy a party membership should have the right to seek a nomination: my party, the Bloc, the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Green Party and every party in this country.
The party that has abused that the most has been the Liberal Party of Canada and former Prime Minister Chrétien. The current Prime Minister is following the policy of Jean Chrétien by appointing people to run in various ridings. If members cannot meet the test of membership in their own riding, then they should not deserve to have the nomination for that riding.
I encourage all members to support the motion before the House.
Topic: Government Orders