Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Members Look at Parliamentary Reform

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Members Look at Parliamentary Reform

Article excerpt

On March 21, 2001, Government House Leader, Don Boudria, introduced a motion to establish a Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons. Consisting of the Deputy Speaker as Chairman and the House Leaders of the five parties represented in the Commons, the committee was instructed to report by June 2001. It was agreed that no changes would be made to the Standing Orders without the unanimous consent of all members of the Committee. Following speeches by the House Leaders a number of private members of Parliament outlined their ideas in a debate which lasted until well past midnight. The following are slightly edited extracts from that debate:

Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.): The most traditional institutions such as churches and monarchies are becoming democratic today because they realize they have to be closer to the people. They have to live with the times. However, parliament is stuck in tradition.

Here is one small example. When the Speaker rises, the three pages required to sit at his feet rise as well. If he sits, they sit. What is the point of all this? think it is symptomatic of a tradition that, today, is completely outmoded, undemocratic and does not improve the life of the pages who come here.

I think about our colleagues here. Do we call them by name? No. We speak of "the hon. member for Bellechasse-Etchemins-Montmagny-L'Islet" or of "the hon. member for Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington".

I have been to many parliaments where people call each other by their names. It is no sin to call someone Smith or Tremblay. They get to know each other. The irony of this place is that in the Chamber I am an hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis. When I get to a committee I am Lincoln. What sense does that make? If it is good for a committee, why should it not be good here? I find that in committee I can put a name and a face to people. There is a certain human bond that develops. I would like to be able to call the member for Regina-Qu'Appelle by name. It would be far friendlier than calling him by his riding name.

As for votes, I really believe very deeply that our system of calling all votes confidence votes, with free votes being the exception, should be reversed. All votes should be free votes except for confidence votes.

I will just give a few figures from the British House which I gleaned some time ago. In the British House of Commons, dissenting votes have been a significant fact of life for a long time. In the seventies dissenting votes accounted for 25% of all voting divisions in the British parliament. In the first session of 1983-1987, when the Tories were in power, 62 divisions took place in which 137 Tory backbenchers cast a total of 416 votes against the government.

Here that would be viewed as heresy because any type of expression that is contrary to the wish of the government is seen as disloyalty. I do not see it as disloyalty. I see it as intelligence. I see it as being accountable to my conscience and to my electors. I separate completely confidence votes, which are a fact of life and must be for the government, from the rest of the votes where we could vote very freely and the government would carry on all the same, and be no worse for it.

With regard to a code of ethics, in 1997 the present Speaker, the member for Kingston and the Islands, was co-chair of a committee that produced a code of official conduct for senators and members of parliament. Some of the members here were part of that committee. The report is still lying on the shelf. Why can we not institute that code of official conduct for all members and for senators? Why can we not make this official? Why can we not have a counsellor responsible to the Parliament of Canada? I do not see any reason why this should not become a part of the rules that govern our conduct as parliamentarians. That should be an essential and a prompt reform to institute. …

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