'The deficiencies of the power structure'

One thing that might create greater independence for the likes of David Wilks is a relaxation of the confidence convention: the understanding by which a government is said to be defeated. On April 18, 1994, Daphne Jennings, a Reform MP, presented the following motion to the House.

That, in the opinion of the this House, the government should permit members of the House of Commons to fully represent their constituents’ views on the government’s legislative program and spending plans by adopting the position that the defeat of any government measure, including a spending measure, shall not automatically mean the defeat of the government unless followed by the adoption of a formal motion.

In her opening speech, she made a general appeal for greater independence and freedom in voting.

There is a feeling that if members are suddenly freed from party discipline there will be chaos with complete unpredictability in the system. Members will be voting every which way and Parliament will become unworkable and the country ungovernable. This is not where this motion leads at all. It simply recognizes that on occasion members without fear of retribution from party leadership may vote against the party line. The government will not fall. The sun will still rise in the east and I believe the interests of Canadians will be better served by their elected representatives. Is that not what we are all here to do, serve the Canadian public to the best of our abilities?

Enough about the content of my motion. Now I would like to deal with the history of this matter, a history which began long before most of us got here. It began with a feeling of dissatisfaction among the Canadian people which was detected by the Canadian Study of Parliamentary Group in a Gallup poll it commissioned in 1983. A question was asked as to how MPs should behave when voting. The response was that 49.5 per cent felt members should vote according to their own judgment. By way of contrast the view that the member should vote as the party wishes received very little support. The national average in the survey favouring the MP as party loyalists was only 7.9 per cent.

The motion was debated in the House over the ensuing weeks. And you’ll never guess who stood up to announce his full support for it.

We have suggested from time to time that the Prime Minister could rise and suggest to the House that there be the freedom to vote more freely. It is true, but in and of itself it is not adequate. It suggests that the Prime Minister possesses such power that he or she could simply determine whether or not votes were free and, that raises questions about whether votes really are free.

There are a number of mechanisms in other countries; the three line whips in Great Britain, the fact that political parliamentary parties are organized on a more bottom-up basis in countries like Australia. This allows a very different style of leadership to emerge whereby it is not just the formalities of practice that apply but there are real issues of diversity of power within political parties that give members greater say and a greater ability to represent their constituents, particularly where those conflict with more broad party interests that are not necessarily representative.

There is a lot I want to say on this issue of how we should examine the deficiencies of the power structure. Unfortunately, I do not have the time. I appreciate the Chair’s patience and I will terminate my remarks now.