Hon. James A. McGrath (St. John's East):
Mr. Speaker, the genius of our type of parliamentary democracy which has been nurtured by 1,000 years of tradition is its ability to adapt to changing times. That, Sir, is what we are addressing today in the motion which is before the House. Today, we are taking a giant step in parliamentary reform. In my view, it is the beginning of the most ambitious and comprehensive attempt which has ever been made to reform this House in its more than 100 years of history. More importantly, what we are attempting to do in the package which is before the House is to enhance the role of the Private Member.
I have already made reference to the role of my six colleagues who worked with me long and hard on the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons. It would be remiss of me, and I am sure my colleagues who sit with me on this side of the House will understand, if I did not pay particular tribute to the Hon. Member for Papineau (Mr. Ouellet). He joined the committee representing the Official Opposition as its first Vice-Chairman. He brought to our deliberations more than 10 years' experience as a senior Minister of the Crown. He will understand if I say to him that among other things he was known as a very partisan Minister of the Crown. I know from personal experience because I had the honour to be his critic for a number of years. However, when he came to the committee he was able to rise to the occasion. He was able to rise above the petty partisan political considerations of the day and look at the greater challenge which was before us in the mandate which we had from the House. His leadership, together with his colleague and my friend, the Hon. Member for Winnipeg-Birds Hill (Mr. Blaik-ie), made it possible for us as a special committee of this House in more than 50 meetings to arrive at all of our conclusions without division. We operated by consensus. Of course, that does not always mean unanimity. I can say without any fear of being contradicted that most of what is in that report does, in fact, represent unanimity.
The Hon. Member for Winnipeg-Birds Hill brought to the committee the perspective and the tradition of reform which has characterized the New Democratic Party and the CCF Party which preceded it. He, Sir, brought an element of dedication to our committee which we truly appreciate, an element of leadership which helped us arrive at our conclusions.
I do not want to be critical of the speech made by the Hon. Member for Windsor West (Mr. Gray). I understand where he is coming from. I understand his concerns. I suspect that if I were the House Leader for the Official Opposition I would probably have made the same speech. I want to quote to him from a book written by the Hon. John B. Stewart, who was for many years a distinguished Liberal Member of Parliament and who now enjoys the distinction of being a member of the other place. He wrote what I consider to be one of the definitive works on the House of Commons. He said, and I commend these words to the Hon. Member for Windsor West:
Over the years Canadian parliamentarians were loath to make an examination of their forms and procedures. They hid indifference, perhaps even laziness, behind a screen of adoration for a British model long after the British themselves, out of concern for the genius of the system, had reformed the model radically.
He then goes on to quote Francis Bacon. He said, and I quote:
Yet there still may be a lesson for us in Francis Bacon's admonition against obstinate traditionalism: "He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for Time is the greatest Innovator."
This is not the last word. This is not the beginning of some kind of a new system of parliamentary reform which is going to be carved in stone. These are merely the best efforts of seven Hon. Members of this House who applied themselves to the challenge which was presented to them by this House.
To the credit of the Government, in accepting that challenge and in giving us the broad mandate in the first instance, it has stuck closely to the recommendations of the committee. Indeed, I know the Hon. Member for Windsor West would be the first to agree with that. If we examine the initial response of the Government-and the Government has its responsibilities-and examine the response now before the House, we will find the Government has come a long way. It makes me very proud to stand in my place today and make reference to that fact. We had a special debate in this House on December 4. The House agreed to set aside its time and give special additional hours for that special debate. What we have in front of us today is a result of a Government which listened to Hon. Members who participated in that special debate.
Indeed, most, if not all of these suggestions which were made during the course of that special debate, have been incorporated in the proposed Standing Orders which are now before the House. But it is not the last word. The Hon. Member for Hamilton Mountain (Mr. Deans), the distinguished House Leader for the New Democratic Party, would be the first to admit that only by trial will we be able to determine how effective these reforms will be. They have to be tried by all of us, including yourself, Mr. Speaker, including the distinguished officers of the Table, the Prime Minister (Mr. Mulroney), Members of the Government, the front bench Members of the Opposition and all of us private Members of the House. It is-and I do not apologize if I sound partisan- to the credit of the Prime Minister and of the Government that the challenge was accepted and these changes were brought in.
February 12, 1986
We have come a long way in the last seven months. It was just seven months ago that we brought in, as a special committee, our final report. We have moved this House further by way of reform than it has ever been moved in its entire history. We are now operating under provisional rules pursuant to the recommendations of the first report. We are about to embark upon a new set of provisional procedural reforms in the new Standing Orders which will incorporate the recommendations of the second and third reports.
We are today taking a giant step. I suppose it is not too melodramatic to say that we are charting a course into unknown waters. What we are trying to establish here is not something which is going to blindly follow the traditions of Westminster or meekly try to imitate the traditions of Washington and the Congressional system. What we are trying to put in place is something, in my view, which is, or will be, uniquely Canadian.
One of the things we talk about in the report is the need for attitudinal change. We cannot regulate attitudes and we cannot legislate attitudes. Attitudes must be changed by the individual. For these reforms to be effective, for these reforms to give us the kind of Parliament we all want, there has to be major attitudinal changes undertaken by Hon. Members of the House. If this House is to assume its rightful role in the life of this country, then I believe that we as Hon. Members of the House have to conduct ourselves with due regard for where we are and why we are here. I say that as one who, during my time in opposition, was perhaps a great offender of decorum. I was an aggressive Member of the Opposition. I would like to feel I was a good Member of the Opposition but I will be the first to admit that I was an aggressive Member of the Opposition. I understand the role of the opposition. When I say that we have to have attitudinal changes, due regard for where we are and why we are here and due regard for the decorum of this place, I do not mean that we all have to be a bunch of powderpuffs. There has to be aggressive debate and confrontation during Question Period but we have to put real questions and we have to have real answer.
One thing we are attempting to do here is take the emphasis off the Question Period, and perhaps that in itself will constitute a reform of our Question Period. It is now the be-all and end-all of the Parliamentary day. The Prime Minister knows, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Turner) knows, and most of us in this House know there is much more to this place than the 45 minutes when the media join us for Question Period.
What I like about these reforms is that it will put the emphasis where it belongs on the hard work which is done in committees of this House. In attempting to reform the committees of this House, the Government, to its credit, has seen the need to make the committees independent of the Government, and not only independent but to be seen to be independent of the Government.
What we have said in our recommendations which the Government has accepted and the House is about to endorse, is to let the media decide if and when it wants to televise or broadcast the proceedings, or whatever part of the proceedings
of a committee it wants to tape in its own editorial wisdom. I believe that fact will go a long way towards changing the emphasis which now is placed-in my opinion, to the detriment of Parliament-on the 45 minutes when we meet here for Question Period.
I do repeat, however, that we do have to have due regard for the decorum of this place. Our decorum, how we conduct ourselves, cannot be changed by the Standing Orders, nor by fiat. That can only be changed by the collective will of this House. It is that collective will which these reforms call upon. These reforms are begging to be addressed in terms of reforming ourselves.
What we have before us are the procedural reforms. They represent the bulk of the recommendations of the second and third reports. They do not represent the entire report. Reference has already been made by the Hon. Member for Win-nipeg-Birds Hill to the non-procedural reforms, and there are 29 of those. Some of them are important and some are not so important, but as a package they are all important in terms of how we attempt to improve the image of this place, for example, in electronic voting.
I happen to believe that electronic voting will be a major reform. Not only will it make us more efficient in our use of time, but also in how we approach a vote. It will help to ease the heavy yoke which has tended to strangle this House over the years through the interpretation by the whips of the confidence convention. Not only do I think it has to be changed, most importantly the Prime Minister of this country thinks it has to be changed and he is committed to making the change. He, Sir, has wavered not one iota in that commitment. When he came to this place he was struck by the need to make changes. It is not mere coincidence that the first priority in the Speech from the Throne opening this Parliament was the striking of the special task force to reform this place and enhance the role of the Private Member. I believe electronic voting will go a long way towards doing just that.
There are other reforms, of course. I am sure most Members would be surprised if I were to tell them that during the last Parliament we spent more than two full sitting days walking behind the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod between this place and the Senate. This is an archaic ceremony which was done away with in Westminster almost 20 years ago. We are the only major Parliament in the Commonwealth to still use that procedure. We are not saying do away with Royal Assent because that would fundamentally change our Constitution and our system. We are saying retain it for special occasions like changes in the Constitution. However, when a Bill requires Royal Assent, let us send a messager to Government House and let the Governor General sign it so we can get on with the business of the nation.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: STANDING ORDERS-PROPOSED AMENDMENTS