Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today in support of my colleague, the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain, and his motion that we are debating today.
I think as Canadians we are really very lucky. We have freedom of expression enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and nobody can take that away from each individual Canadian. It grants us the right to speak our mind, the right to discuss issues that we believe are important not only to our constituents, but to Canadians right across this vast, beautiful land we call home.
I believe it is our duty as federal legislators, as federal representatives here in the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada, to speak out and to speak according to our conscience. This is especially pressing on abortion and end-of-life issues. I find it concerning and highly irritating when I hear somebody suggest that we cannot as federal legislators discuss an issue that is in the federal jurisdiction as it is not politically correct, or that it will offend some segments of society.
Well, it will be no surprise to anybody that I have been a defender of the rights of the unborn and I believe that we must be able to debate this issue freely. I supported previous motions to that effect, and will support any future motions that come before this House. I constantly receive correspondence and phone calls from constituents who are firmly in favour of defending the right to life, and as it is my duty as their federal representative here to represent their interests in Parliament, I am reinforced in my belief that this is the right thing to do.
Another issue that has dominated the national spotlight is that of end-of-life matters. The Supreme Court recently struck down parts of legislation which made assisted suicide illegal in Canada. I know that our government is carefully crafting a legislative response to this decision, and I pray that the drafters will take into consideration the value of human life when they are making the decisions on what this legislation will look like. Because the end-of-life issue is so pertinent right now, my words will focus mostly on this.
To start, I want to say that I receive many comments from constituents, whether they be spoken, by email or regular mail, by phone or by fax. Most of them urge us to choose a strong, well thought out palliative end-of-life care strategy over the legalization of assisted suicide matters. I support this view, and I believe that every life must be protected.
I think we in this country have one of the best medical care systems in the world. It has its problems, but overall we are very blessed to have the best doctors and some of the best medical science out there available for our use. I believe that we can develop a palliative care regime that cares for our citizens until the end of their natural lives.
I believe that when it comes to matters of conscience such as these, it is critical that the democratically elected members of this House be allowed to vote according to their beliefs and to vote on how the majority of their constituents would have them vote. I realize that support for some issues can be different from community to community, province to province, and in our case, electoral district to electoral district.
It is very unfortunate that certain political parties represented in this House today have basically eliminated the ability of their members to decide how they wish to vote based on conscience issues. When it comes to matters of conscience, in an open, transparent, and democratic society such as ours, it is unthinkable that somebody would tell another that on deeply personal moral issues, one has to vote the way the party leadership tells members to vote, or else. Or else could be suspending said person from the caucus, or simply putting them in the penalty box so to speak.
How can we as legislators in a modern democracy believe that this is somehow all right, that this is the way of doing business? How can we, in our quest to cater to what we think is prevailing public opinion, seek to silence democratically elected members of this place on the very important moral issues of conscience? I find this to be absurd.
An opposition member recently said that they consider all votes to be matters of conscience. As I understand it, that is what the member said. Well, I wish that would be reflected when it came time to vote. These votes would not be whipped and these people would not be basically ordered how to vote by their party leadership. We need to all take a collective breath and consider exactly what we will no doubt have to consider sometime in the near future.
End-of-life issues are a very emotional subject matter and tend to evoke strong emotions. I understand this and I am willing to bet there are members from every party here today who have reservations about legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
This motion would encourage that the parties represented here today allow their members to vote freely according to their personal beliefs, according to what their conscience is telling them.
It is like the old Pinocchio jingle, “always let your conscience be your guide”. That is kind of a gentle way of urging my colleagues here today to carefully consider the motion that is in front of them.
I know that we will have some emotional debates here regarding other major issues of conscience.
Motion No. 312 by the member for Kitchener Centre supported the establishment of a parliamentary committee to study when life begins. I was incredibly proud to stand up and support that motion.
However, I am left asking myself how my constituents would want me to vote. Some upcoming questions that we will have to deal with in this place will be questions of conscience. They will also be relevant to what my constituents would have me do as their chosen voice in this place. I think I have always done my best to vote with their best intentions at heart.
Motion No. 312 and others that may have come before the House in the last several Parliaments seek to deal with a very delicate issue. Many people may not realize that there are no laws regulating the right to an abortion in Canada either. Through his motion, the member for Kitchener Centre was essentially trying to get us to start discussing some sort of direction that we as federal legislators should take on this important issue.
It is matters such as the one that Motion No. 312 was trying to deal with that the motion we are discussing today would cover.
Let us face reality here. Simply having no law is something I find unfortunate in a modern democracy. This is something of an issue that I and many of my colleagues here today probably have a problem with. Regardless of where one stands on end-of-life issues, I am sure everyone in the House would agree that we absolutely must have a written law on the books that would regulate it one way or another. Are we to expect that we should simply have no laws covering end-of-life issues? By going down that path we would be opening up a major can of worms, so to speak.
I do not believe that pretending there is no issue here is the right course of action. We cannot allow ourselves to get into the same situation, and that is why the government is working on the next steps. Doing nothing is not an option. It is our responsibility as federal legislators to craft laws that will protect vulnerable people in our society. We lose a certain amount of institutional credibility by simply turning a blind eye to these very important issues of conscience.
On the Carter case which recently struck down this country's law on assisted suicide, we must tread very lightly as federal legislators. My personal view I have already mentioned, but I believe that this is one of the great moral issues of conscience that our generation is dealing with. The value of human life must not be put in jeopardy by emotional quick decisions. It is important that we take a thoughtful and careful look at how we as a society are going to deal with these important matters. That is why it is so critical to look at the facts and ensure that we are not rushing into any decisions.
Doing nothing is simply not acceptable. Again, our responsibility as federal legislators is to legislate when it comes to the issues affecting the lives of human beings. We are truly blessed with a very important mandate. It is our responsibility to keep Canadians safe from harm. We must also do our utmost to protect the unborn as well as those who are coming to the end of their natural lives. Let us choose to support and comfort those who are nearing the end with everything in our power. Let us look at making changes and improving on our palliative care models so that they are always the absolute best and the most compassionate possible.
We can work together to deliver this with other levels of government and with stakeholder groups. Let us work together to recognize that the value of life is greater than any of our emotional choices as we humans are often compelled to make. This is a critical issue for our attention. I wholeheartedly support this motion, which speaks to the freedom we elected members should have when voting on issues of conscience. I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of the motion.