Mr. Speaker, I thank my opposition colleagues for the warm applause.
Let me start by making a few comments on the motion and what it means. Although many words have been spoken in previous days about government Motion No. 2, particularly by my colleague, the hon. , I think it is important for those people who may be watching for the first time that I try to explain what government Motion No. 2 is actually about.
Quite simply, government Motion No. 2 purports that all unfinished parliamentary business, which we left when we rose for the summer recess back in June, would return in the same state in which it was before we recessed. In other words, to use the vernacular, we simply want to pick up where we left off.
That in itself is not unusual. Many times before governments have, after prorogation, brought forward similar motions that allowed unfinished legislative initiatives, in other words government bills, to be brought back to Parliament in the same state that they were pre-prorogation. That is what we are doing with approximately seven bills that were still being debated when we rose for the summer and prior to prorogation.
However, we go far beyond that, because although it is normal for governments, previously, to bring back similar motions to try to start the debate on these important bills, we decided not only to just have government legislation brought back but all parliamentary work should be brought back in the same state that it was before we adjourned.
Why is that important? It is important because in committee work there are two, in particular, very important parliamentary studies being conducted by committees. These two studies, I should add, are supported wholeheartedly by members of the opposition.
We appointed a special legislative committee to study the issue of missing aboriginal women. Now, opposition members have been calling for such a study to be enacted for many months, in fact, I think over the course of the last two or three parliamentary sessions. We have agreed to that. We installed a special legislative committee that would allow for such a study to occur. However, if we do not pass Motion No. 2, that committee would be disbanded. That study would be halted.
We think it is incumbent upon us as a government to observe the hard work that parliamentarians did on all sides of the House on that committee, and bring the study to fruition. The only way we can do that is to pass Motion No. 2.
Failing that, what would happen is that there would have to be another legislative committee struck, membership presented and the committee would basically go back to square one on the analysis and study of that very important issue. Why do that? Why should we waste the valuable time that has already been spent on that very important issue? Motion No. 2 would take care of that.
The other study that is ongoing and quite frankly has just started is the study being conducted by the procedure and House affairs committee on members' expenses. I will speak about that in a little more detail in a few moments.
Let me now turn my attention to why the opposition apparently has a problem with Motion No. 2. What the official opposition has stated in its opposition to government Motion No. 2 is that it feels by lumping together government bills and committee studies somehow we are prejudicing the entire motion. They are saying we are somehow playing politics with the facts, because if the opposition wants to approve the continuation of committee studies, it is forced to vote in favour of the motion, which includes government bills.
Not only is that nonsensical, it really defies description to believe that we would even attempt to play politics with such important issues as the study on missing aboriginal women and children. I think any opposition it has to our attempt to pass government Motion No. 2 has now been allayed, because the Speaker's ruling of last Friday said we will now have two votes on the same motion.
The first vote will deal with government legislation. We will vote on whether or not to bring back all government bills in the same state they were in prior to prorogation. We are talking about bills such as the , , bills that had reached various stages of progression in this Parliament. Some had reached and gone through second reading. Some had reached report stage. Some had even passed third reading. Many of the government bills that we want to bring back had the full support of the entire Parliament, yet the NDP, primarily, wants to see us refuse to bring these bills back, and in effect, reintroduce them and start the debate all over again.
I ask if there is any sensibly thinking Canadian who would look at this opposition and say that this is the way we should go. Rather than continuing on and getting these bills passed, which all parliamentarians support, would anyone say they want to start all over again, have the same debate again, waste Parliament's time and waste taxpayers' time? No. No one would agree to that, except, it appears, the opposition.
Because of the ruling of the Chair, we are now going to be dealing with government bills in a separate vote. If members of the opposition vote in favour of our motion, that is not to say that they are voting in favour of each individual bill. It would merely be to say that they are voting in favour of bringing these bills back to Parliament in the same state that they were before we adjourned in June. To me, it seems like a common sense approach because most of the bills, as I said before, have been approved. Some of them have passed second reading debate. Some of them have passed third reading debate. Many have the approval of the entire Parliament. Why in the world would we want to discard all of that hard work and start over again? It does not make sense.
However, if the opposition was only concerned with the lumping of the committee studies and the government bills, now they should not have a problem with it, because we will have a second vote. That vote will be to bring back other parliamentarian work, specifically committee studies, and restore them to the same state they were in before. Clearly, it gives the opposition an opportunity to make their views known on government legislation and on committee work. If the opposition wants to vote against Motion No. 2 with respect to government bills, it can do so. If it wants to vote in favour of bringing back committee studies, it can do so. However, it will be government Motion No. 2 that we are voting on. Even though it is split into two votes, the motion, I predict, will carry, hopefully with the support of all parliamentarians.
Again, on the legislative initiatives, on the government bills, it does not mean that if the opposition members vote in favour of it, they are voting in favour of each of those seven bills. It just means that we return those bills to the Order Paper at the same point they were before we recessed for the summer. It is a common sense approach. It saves parliamentary time. It rewards the hard efforts of all the parliamentarians who debated these very important bills for several hours last spring. That seems to be a common sense approach.
Let me spend a few moments on one of the other committee studies. I want to point out what appears to me to be an apparent contradiction and the blatant hypocrisy of the NDP when it comes to the second study that I mentioned, which is the procedure and House affairs' study into MP expenses.
Only a couple of months ago, we had a special meeting. It was held in the summer, when most parliamentarians were not in Ottawa, and initiated by the NDP for the sole purpose of trying to initiate some rules, practices and procedures surrounding this ongoing study into MP expenses, trying to increase transparency so that all Canadians would feel assured that their taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and appropriately. At the time, the NDP went to great lengths to talk to the media and try to convince the media that it was the only party that truly wanted a transparent approach to member of Parliament expenses. New Democrats talked for many days and many hours, trying to convince the media that the other parties in the House, the Liberals and the Conservatives, really did not want transparency, while the NDP, of course, did.
Since that time, interestingly enough, there are only two parties in the House that have voluntarily agreed to post their MP expenses online: the Liberal Party and our party. We are doing this voluntarily.
Our position, quite clearly, is that we would like to see a procedure and a system set up, hopefully approved through the Board of Internal Economy, that all parties could agree to. In other words, we would have a common approach to posting our expenses. However, in the interim, because that may take some time to develop, our party has agreed to have our MPs post hospitality and travel expenses voluntarily on a go-forward basis. The Liberals have also agreed to that. There is only party that has not agreed: the NDP.
On one hand, the NDP is trying to convince the media and Canadians that it is the only party in favour of transparency. On the other hand, it is the only party that does not want to post its expenses online. Let us think about that for moment. Think about the hypocrisy of the NDP. All of this time when its members were talking about their attempts and desire for transparency, it was nothing more than a political stunt.
There is a saying where I come from, and many Canadians share it. It is “put your money where your mouth is”. If NDP members truly believe in transparency, I challenge them to stand up today in questions and comments following my presentation and agree that their MPs should post their expenses online. It is a simple thing. One can do it voluntarily. Some members may be doing it individually, and I applaud them for doing that, but as a party they have refused to make their MPs accountable to Canadians. They have refused, as a party, to agree to posting MP expenses online. Let them stand up today and say that they will. I would be the first to applaud them and say they have taken a positive step. However, I cannot sit here, and I certainly cannot stand here during this presentation, and admit that they are in favour of transparency when they have not proven it.
Let us vote in favour of government Motion No. 2 this evening so that we can bring back all of the legislative initiatives of this government to the same state in which they were in order to allow further debate and allow those bills to go to a vote. Some may pass and some may be defeated, but at least we should bring them back without any undue delay.
Also, let us vote in favour of bringing other parliamentary business back in the same state it was, specifically committee studies. Let the committees continue their hard valuable work, the work that Canadians have been asking for.
Finally, let the NDP members today stand in their places and say they will join us in posting MP expenses online. If they do not, it only says one thing: that they are not interested in transparency. They are not interested in allowing Canadians to see their expenses but only in political stunts, and that is something we cannot abide.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me to speak to Motion No. 2 moved by the .
The implications of this motion, both for the parliamentary process and for the conditions surrounding the members' work, are quite significant and therefore require meaningful debate in this chamber.
True to form, the Conservatives again introduced an omnibus measure that thoroughly confuses the debate and changes the discussion on the most controversial parts.
As it did with the mammoth bills, the government is using questionable tactics to try to push its agenda and bury the contentious measures within a whole raft of technical items.
The motion by the deals with so many items that it becomes difficult to focus the discussion.
It addresses legislative proceedings, the parliamentary calendar, the Board of Internal Economy, committees and the hearings conducted by those committees.
It goes from themes such as expenditure management to topics like missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women.
Accordingly, in one single vote, we are to take a position on the motion's numerous components, which do not really have anything in common other than being the direct result of the Conservatives' tactics.
This makes no sense, but more than that, it is a denial of democracy, as well as yet another example of the Conservatives' flagrant lack of respect for parliamentary institutions.
In short, the Conservatives are continuing to demonstrate their contempt for Canada's parliamentary institutions.
Fortunately, last week the rose on a point of order, and rightly so. I commend the Speaker for his fairness in agreeing to separate the vote on the motion.
In addition to considering the fact that this is an omnibus motion, we need to look at the content. The first part is undoubtedly the most questionable.
In part (a) of the motion, the is proposing that a bill introduced within 30 sitting days of this motion being passed will be deemed in the current session to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation of the previous session.
Of course, it must be identical in form to the version introduced in the previous session. Consequently, the government could reinstate legislation at the stage it was at before the House was prorogued.
However, before I delve further into the content of part (a), I think it is important to understand the context of this aspect of the 's motion.
First, it is important to remember that the government had parliamentarians sit until midnight at the end of the last session and then hastily adjourned the proceedings on June 19.
After forcing members to work overtime, the Conservatives then robbed parliamentarians of precious hours of debate, which makes no sense. It would be like a company forcing its employees to work overtime to then lay them off before the end of a contract.
Second, it is important to point out that the said this on May 22:
||...we are seeking to allow debate to continue until midnight every night so we can get more done, have more debate, have more democracy...
That is an interesting paradox, because despite what his House leader says, on September 13, the asked the Governor General to prorogue proceedings until October 16, 2013.
That was the fourth prorogation since 2006. Coming from a government that claims to want more democracy, this leaves something to be desired .
By doing so, the government is responsible for many negative effects, the impact of which is already being felt and will continue to be felt.
First of all, five weeks of parliamentary work were lost because of the 's partisan recklessness.
We lost five weeks during which we could have moved committee work forward; five weeks during which we could have debated various pieces of legislation; five weeks during which opposition members could have asked nearly 1,000 questions in the House of Commons.
This decision also blocked the process surrounding the legislative error in Bill regarding tax hikes on credit unions. This measure will have a direct impact on institutions like Desjardins, whose taxes will double.
At the same time, the savings accounts and debt levels of Canadians who use those services will be affected. The additional delays caused by prorogation will only add to the uncertainty surrounding this error in Bill .
Similarly, prorogation also created some stumbling blocks in the passing of legislation to stop discrimination against transgendered people, as well as the creation of a special committee to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. These groups within our population really deserve our full support, along with quick and effective action.
While the government is putting its own partisan interests first, victims will just have to wait. Behind the 's decision are the real victims who need us.
Finally, environmental studies on habitat conservation, the Great Lakes, the groundwater near the oil sands and the impact of climate change on northern fish populations were all dropped because Parliament was shut down. That is what we have to remember. Can the environment really wait until it fits the 's agenda? I sincerely doubt it.
Clearly, the decision to prorogue Parliament—the main goal of which was to merely serve the partisan interests of this government—had very serious consequences.
Did we need to lose five weeks of parliamentary activity to do that? No. Did we need to miss out on all the work that could have been accomplished? No. Did we need to disrupt the legislative processes that were under way only to come back to most of them in the end? No. This whole situation is ridiculous.
Today, what the House leader is trying to do by moving an omnibus motion is to clean up the mess that his political party made. The Conservatives want to solve a problem that they caused. Let us face it. It does not make much sense.
Rather than acting in the interests of Canadians from the outset, the government has gotten caught up in trying to fix the mess it made with its own actions. Rather than taking action and holding debates in September, the Conservatives simply decided to shut Parliament down.
This series of positions and actions taken by the government demonstrates the Conservatives' ambivalence toward managing parliamentary procedure, something which—let us not forget—they have been doing in an authoritarian, questionable and anti-democratic way. Their management style is the hallmark of an old party that has lost all interest in parliamentary affairs.
On the one hand, they are setting an overloaded schedule and forcing members to hastily debate bills, as they did last spring. On the other hand, they are limiting the time for debate by moving countless time allocation motions and even rising early.
Recently, they completely bypassed the parliamentary process by proroguing the previous session. Now, a few weeks later, they are trying to bring it back by introducing a measure to that effect in an omnibus motion. This is déjà vu.
The government's piecemeal management style has consequences and brings Canada's democratic institutions and the Conservative Party as a whole into disrepute.
Getting back to the motion, we believe that we should pick up where we left off with some pieces of legislation. However, did the legislative process really have to be delayed by five weeks? Definitely not. What we are most critical of is not the proposed measure but its operationalization and, above all, the reasons why we are having this debate.
Regardless of the reasons why the introduced Motion No. 2, we have the right to question which specific bills will be fully brought back in their previous versions. We could also ask about the number of pieces of legislation that will be introduced again and then the pertinence of a new throne speech if the government has the same agenda.
Yesterday, there were absolutely no new ideas or any sign of a plan that would bring people together and provide a formal direction. The throne speech's lack of substance makes me seriously wonder about the real reason for the prorogation. All this time and the potential for action were lost simply for partisan reasons. Why prevent parliamentarians from doing their job by closing Parliament if the has nothing new to offer? Why limit the work done by the opposition if the Conservative Party claims to be championing accountability?
It is up to the government to respond.
In theory, a throne speech must set somewhat of a new course and bring something new to the legislative landscape. Restoring the bulk of the bills from the last session would demonstrate that this is a public relations exercise intended to muzzle the opposition and cover up the Conservative scandals.
In short, with respect to section (a) of Motion No. 2, it is obvious that the leader is trying to hide the Prime Minister's lack of vision regarding the prorogation of Parliament. The government wanted to clear the legislative agenda and then fully restore it. This validates the criticism that prorogation and the throne speech were just a smokescreen used to draw attention away from the scandals in which the Conservatives are mired.
That said, there are some parts of the 's omnibus motion that our party agrees with, for example, the proposal to hold public hearings regarding replacing the Board of Internal Economy with an independent body. More specifically, it suggests that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be responsible for holding the hearings, and the Auditor General, the Clerk and the Chief Financial Officer of the House of Commons would participate. This in-depth study could result in some proposed changes to the Parliament of Canada Act, the Financial Administration Act, the Auditor General Act and any other acts as deemed necessary.
Historically, the NDP has always favoured more transparent and effective management of taxpayers' dollars, whether we are talking about government programs management or spending oversight parameters.
We believe in accountability. We believe in transparency. We are therefore open to the idea of closely examining the issue of MPs' spending and particularly the issue of an independent body overseeing this spending. We think this study deserves special attention and that the witnesses invited could be in a position to make relevant, proactive suggestions.
However, we must remember that such changes require co-operation among the different political parties as well as everyone involved. If we can work together, we can be sure to get the best possible reform that adequately reflects reality. We must absolutely come to a consensus on creating an independent structure that would oversee and control MPs' spending.
Yet another measure in this omnibus motion is the creation of a special committee to conduct hearings on the critical matter of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women.
I am especially interested in this matter and I met many of these women during a demonstration on Parliament Hill last year, so I firmly believe that we have already waited far too long to act. These women and girls are waiting and they want government authorities to intervene quickly and investigate these too easily forgotten cases. They want the government to do something to stop these attacks on human dignity. That is what the NDP has been calling for for years, and that is what the government has refused to do.
Obviously, those five lost weeks will just make the process even slower than it already was and exacerbate tensions on the ground. It is pretty easy for the government to blame the official opposition, but the government created the situation itself. Had the Conservatives not made a partisan choice to prorogue Parliament, we would already be working on this issue. Unfortunately for these aboriginal women and girls, who did not choose to become victims of this scourge and government inaction, we have not been able to work on it yet.
In conclusion, the motion moved by the is nothing but a cover for the real reason the prorogued Parliament. We have identified countless paradoxes that indicate this government is worn out, drowning in scandal and unable to give Canadians a real vision for their society. Rather than work in Canadians' interest, the Conservatives chose to engage in pathological partisanship, and that is something the NDP has always opposed.
The motion moved by the does address some important concerns, but unfortunately for the people we represent, it makes about as much sense as a pyromaniac firefighter.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the motion to reinstate the not criminally responsible reform act.
As you know, former Bill was awaiting second reading debate in the Senate when it died on the Order Paper. I urge the members of the House to support this motion to reinstate the bill to permit the Senate to continue its study of this important piece of legislation.
It is my view that the reinstatement of the bill to second reading debate in the Senate would avoid duplication of the considerable amount of work already undertaken by the House and by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to the study of this bill.
Members of the House will undoubtedly remember that former Bill was considered and debated by the House for 15 hours between February 8 and June 18 of this year. All parties had a significant opportunity to present their views and be heard on this issue. It would seem to me to be an inefficient use of resources to repeat this process on the exact same issue.
In addition to the vigorous debate in the House, the bill was exhaustively studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this past June. Over a period of five days, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from more than 30 witnesses with a wide variety of backgrounds and professional experience.
The committee heard testimony from the former minister of justice and his officials. Victims' advocates, such as the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, also testified, as did representatives of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and representatives from other major mental health organizations.
Review board members from two jurisdictions were able to attend, as well as a psychiatrist from one of Canada's busiest forensic institutions. Several members of the legal profession and major non-governmental organizations also testified.
All of these witnesses presented valuable viewpoints on former Bill . This greatly enriched the study of the not criminally responsible reform act. The justice committee was well served by their participation.
Furthermore, the committee also had the benefit of hearing directly from a number of victims who had become involved in the criminal justice system as a result of having lost a family member in an incident involving a mentally disordered accused.
It took great courage and strength for them to speak to the committee about their loss and express how the justice system can be improved. We are grateful for their participation and for the perspective that they brought to the study of this bill.
The committee heard all of these concerns and proceeded to return the bill to the House with two substantive amendments to improve it further. Reinstating the bill at second reading in the Senate would avoid unnecessary duplication of all the valuable work done by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights just this past spring.
In support of this position, I would like to take a few minutes to remind hon. members what exactly is included in the bill and why it is so important that the parliamentary review of these proposed reforms be able to continue as expeditiously as possible.
The not criminally responsible reform act seeks to amend both the mental disorder regime of the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act to enhance the protection of the public and improve the involvement of victims in the process.
The mental disorder regime in both statutes sets out the powers and procedures that govern an accused who has been found either unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible.
Individuals who fall under the mental disorder regime are supervised by provincial administrative tribunals that are referred to as review boards. These review boards are made up of legal and psychiatric experts whose task is to monitor the progress of accused persons and evaluate their potential risk to the public. They review each case on an annual basis, although in certain circumstances it could be every two years, until the individual no longer poses a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Issues of criminal responsibility for individuals who suffer from mental illness have been a vexing issue for policy-makers and lawmakers for centuries. These issues are complex and challenging from both a technical legal perspective and a societal perspective.
The not criminally responsible reform act is a targeted and reasonable response to the concern about high-risk, not criminally responsible accused who pose a higher risk to the public.
The not criminally responsible reform act has three main elements. First, it seeks to ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration when decisions are made about not criminally responsible and unfit accused. This element is intended to add clarity to an area of the mental disorder regime that has presented some confusion.
Although the Supreme Court of Canada has stated on more than one occasion that public safety is the paramount consideration in determining the proper disposition with respect to a not criminally responsible accused, there remained some concern that this interpretation was not being reflected in practice.
In fact, various witnesses who testified before the justice committee had varying views as to whether public safety was truly the paramount consideration or simply one of four listed factors to take into consideration. By clarifying that public safety is the paramount consideration in decisions regarding the mentally disordered accused person, the government is ensuring that public safety is the primary consideration of decision-makers.
Second, the bill proposes a new scheme to designate some not criminally responsible accused as high-risk accused. This scheme is intended to apply to only the small number of not criminally responsible accused who are found by a court to represent an elevated risk to society so that they would be subject to the extra protection provided through this designation.
The high-risk designation would ensure that a not criminally responsible accused would be held in custody in a hospital and could not be considered for any kind of release until the high-risk designation was revoked by the court. High-risk not criminally responsible accused would not be eligible to receive unescorted passes into the community and would only receive escorted passes in narrow circumstances, such as for medical reasons. This designation would operate to protect the public by ensuring that the not criminally responsible accused who posed the highest risk would not have unsupervised access to our communities and neighbourhoods.
Another outcome of the high-risk designation would be that the review board would be able to extend the time period between reviews. As I mentioned, the review board usually reviews each case on an annual basis, which can be extended up to two years in certain circumstances under the current law. This bill proposes to provide the review board with the discretion to increase the period of time between reviews to up to three years if the accused has been designated a high-risk not criminally responsible accused. The review boards would be able to extend the length of time in two circumstances: if the accused consents to the extension; and if the review board is satisfied, on the basis of relevant information, that the accused's condition is not likely to improve and that detention remains necessary for the period of the extension.
Finally, the bill also proposes significant changes to the victim-related provisions of the mental disorder regime to improve information-sharing and victim participation in the mental disorder regime.
The government is very committed to addressing the concerns of all victims of crime, not just those impacted through the mental disorder regime. In fact, over the summer, the minister travelled to many parts of Canada to engage in consultations with stakeholders on developing a federal victims' bill of rights that would provide victims with a more effective voice for victims in the criminal justice and corrections systems.
Our government is taking action to ensure that our streets and communities are safe. This includes enhancing the rights of victims so that they know that they have a voice in the criminal justice system. One of the key themes that emerged from these consultations was the desire for victims of crime to be kept informed and involved at every stage of the justice process. The victim-related reforms in the not criminally responsible reform act are a step in that direction. They address this concern by increasing the information that would be made available to victims and by ensuring that their safety was considered when decisions were made. For example, the bill would require courts and review boards to specifically consider the safety of the victim when determining whether a not criminally responsible accused remained a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Another improvement to the victim-related provisions in the mental disorder regime would be a requirement that review boards consider in every case whether to make a non-communication order between the victim and the mentally disordered accused. The review board would also have to consider whether to issue an order preventing an accused from going to a certain place. These elements would be in place to both increase the safety of the victims and to ensure their peace of mind.
Victims who have become involved in the mental disorder regime have also expressed concern that they have no way of knowing when a not criminally responsible accused is going to be released or discharged into the community. They expressed apprehension about encountering the accused in their neighbourhoods or communities with no warning.
In response to this concern, the bill proposes that for victims who want to be notified, the review board would be required to notify them when a not criminally responsible accused was being discharged into the community. This provision was amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during its deliberations to increase the amount of information the victim would receive. Specifically, the amendment would provide that a victim could receive information regarding the intended place of residence of the accused upon discharge. This amendment was intended to ensure that interested victims were made aware if the accused was going to be located in their community upon release. The committee felt that this amendment would be a positive addition to the victim-related components of the not criminally responsible reform act, and I agree with them.
It is important to note that the victim-related reforms were supported by every witness who testified at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All of the witnesses who commented on these elements were very supportive.
There are a few final things I would like to emphasize with respect to this legislation. The bill should not be interpreted as implying that people with mental illness are presumptively dangerous. That is not what the bill does. I can assure all hon. members that the proposed reforms are consistent with the government's efforts regarding mental illness and the criminal justice system. In addition to seeking to protect the public, it also seeks to ensure that the mentally disordered accused receive fair and appropriate treatment. I am confident that the not criminally responsible reform act would not have a negative impact on the broader issue of mental illness in the criminal justice system, nor is it intended to fuel stigma against the mentally ill.
Before I conclude my discussion on the substance of the bill, I would like to bring to the attention of the House one other amendment made to the bill by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This other amendment provides for a parliamentary review of the mental disorder provisions five years following royal assent. The committee members unanimously agreed that it would be beneficial to review the amendments to ensure that they were having the intended effect. Given the highly technical nature of this area of criminal law, I think hon. members would agree with me that the amendment is a welcome one and would likely provide Parliament with valuable information as to the impact of the proposed reforms.
I would like to return now to the issue at hand, the motion currently before the House to reinstate Bill at the stage it was at in the Senate. I encourage all members to vote in favour of the motion to avoid significant duplication of effort, and most importantly, to ensure that this important legislation, whose main focus is aimed at protecting the public and addressing the concerns of victims, can quickly become law.
Mr. Speaker, I think it would be helpful to those watching, and certainly to some members of Parliament who are here and have already participated in the debate, to set the context of why we are having this conversation.
Various members seem to have connected this to one piece of legislation or another, or the government's intention on one bill or item in the throne speech. It has nothing to do with any of that. All of this has been created. It is a manufactured crisis and a manufactured inability of the majority Conservative government of the day to simply negotiate in basic common sense and good faith.
A prorogation, which I will remind my colleagues across the way of the Conservatives own making, bears a small parenthetical moment because the prorogation was for what again? Right, it was to help the government reset the channel. It was in desperate straits.
If we cast our memories back to the end of the last parliamentary session, it was Whack-a-Mole on scandal with the Conservative government. Every day we woke up to another scandal by either a member getting accused by Elections Canada of fraudulently running the last campaign or another senator perhaps having stolen money from the Canadian taxpayer, all of which was associated to the and going right into the very heart of the Prime Minister's inner circle, his chief of staff and directors of this and that.
We find out today that the scandal was at an even deeper level, a more rotten level, because the assured all Canadians at the time, in the spring, that it was the grassy knoll theory, it was a rogue chief of staff, as if those two things go together for a prime minister like this that he would hire a chief of staff who would suddenly one day just go rogue and keep him in the dark of something that was dominating the news of the day.
Now what the government came back with after its attempt to reset the channel to change the conversation was a throne speech with a number of items borrowed from the NDP's last platform. The Conservatives are welcome, and I hope they actually do them.
The second set of things is to protect consumers, which is nice. I know the may have had a bit of an itch watching these various announcements come out because so much for the invisible hand of the marketplace. The Conservatives with their deep-founded ideology that the market solves all in all cases now find themselves a finance minister in charge of measures that come out of a social democratic party's previous election platform to help on credit card fees potentially, maybe moving from voluntary, which is very nice. Perhaps the Minister of Finance would like to have voluntary tax measures for Canadians such that, “You can pay your taxes. We would like you to, but if you don't want to pay your taxes, we'll have a cuddly relationship like we do with the banks and they can voluntarily reduce those fees for Canadians, or not, without any consequences”.
Also, they would see their having to be responsible, and maybe even interfering in the marketplace, for the cellphone rates that Canadians pay. Members will remember that the Conservatives went out on a very high horse and said that they were going to bring in competition for the Canadian cellphone market.
How has that been going so far? It is an absolute disaster. The Conservatives have created uncertainty in the telco market. There has been absolutely no new entrance into the cellphone market and the laughs at those very consumers he now pretends to care about. One wonders about the authenticity of those words in that throne speech.
However, I will come back to why we are here, which is another closure motion. It is another motion to shut down debate.
I do not know if the is paid per heckle, but I wonder if he could, for the next 18 minutes, contain his enthusiasm for my remarks and then he and I can have an exchange of ideas through what we call the question part of this debate. Apparently he cannot contain himself nor have any ideas.
The political loans bill is legislation that the minister and his party supported through the process. It is a political loans bill that was meant to catch those members of Parliament, or generally Canadians, who ran for political office, ran for the leadership of their parties, and allow for Elections Canada, as it simply did not have the ability, to go after those who had not repaid after a certain time. Now the Conservatives wrote this bill, with the support of the NDP in principle, but they then brought in a bill that was so ultimately flawed that Elections Canada said that it was utterly unworkable. The Conservative members on the committee said that it could not be rewritten. Now we have a motion—
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, if only a moment could go by where I could perhaps string a sentence or two together without having the parliamentary secretary feeling that I need the aid and assistance of his wise and deeply provoking comments.
The idea is the bill was so flawed the Conservatives now want to introduce it and tell the opposition that it will put this into a super motion.
In fact, in this omnibus motion to reintroduce all the legislation, good and bad, that it killed through prorogation, the government is also attaching two fundamentally critical studies that the House was engaged in at the time it shut down Parliament.
The first study was on MPs expenses, the procedure and a motion that the NDP introduced to allow the procedure and House affairs committee to get to the bottom of a battered system for members of Parliament to report their expenses to Canadians, not a voluntary measure as the Liberals have done with vague lines and some reporting and some not, not as the Conservatives have promised to do, which is to follow suit into that epic vagueness that does not actually bring accountability. It was universal, one-size-fits-all enforceable measures that all MPs, whatever their political background, report their expenses on behalf of Canadians. This would be audited and absolutely clarified by House staff rather than internally by themselves.
The second study that was going on is one that is extremely important to me and to many Canadians. It was a study that looked at missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The New Democrats supported this study. I represent an area in northwestern British Columbia that has borne the brunt of much of this violence. Successive governments simply will not call for an inquest and inquiry that so many families of those victims want.
The Conservative government continually talks about standing up for victims. My friends have been deeply scarred by the tragedy of particularly young aboriginal women going missing and ending up murdered and yet governments time and time again have simply said that an inquiry is not enough. I have talked to RCMP officers, friends of mine, who have had to sit with those families. They tell them that they can only do what they can with the resources they have. They tell them that until they have the full scope of an investigation that would be done by an inquiry, they cannot do much more.
The government is asking Canadians to trust it when it does not trust Canadians. This could have been an easy fix. We do not need to be having this debate. We could have absolutely moved certain legislation forward. Other legislation that were clearly walking disasters would not be reintroduced and we would not waste more parliamentary time. We could have had a stand-alone vote on these two independent studies on MPs expenses and missing and murdered aboriginal women.
We offered that to the government. We told the government that it should not put these things together because there was a principle in the House of Commons that every vote should be free and fair and that people should be able to vote with a clear conscience. The Conservatives used to believe in that as well. Thankfully, the Speaker was able to intervene after we asked him to separate the votes. That was all. The government argued against it, saying there was no need to have two votes on two completely different things. What sense would that make?
I remember the Conservative government being elected in 2006 as the good sheriff coming in to clean up corrupt and entitled Ottawa. While the came to change Ottawa, I am wondering if Ottawa did not change him in the end.
I will quote from the right hon. in 2005:
|| There's going to be a new code on Parliament Hill: bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison...
Reflect that upon the scandals that have been going on in the very same 's own office with people he chose, people he hand selected, people he laid hands on to go to the Senate and represent the Conservatives. I am talking of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
The chose his chief of staff, probably the most important appointment a prime minister can make because the individual has so much influence over the direction of the prime minister, who said that it was ethically correct to pay a senator $90,000 to stay quiet. Today we found out today he conducted the speaking notes for this under siege senator to go out and say s was the plan, that he was covered. The Prime Minister stood up day after day and said that it was just one lone wolf in the Prime Minister's Office, that there could not have possibly been anybody else.
Let me quote the Right Hon. again:
|| We must clean up corruption and lift up the veils of secrecy that have allowed it to flourish. We must replace the culture of entitlement with a culture of accountability.
We could talk to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the old one or the new one, about what it is like to actually have accountability from the Conservative government. It is just numbers. These individuals just want the stats, the figures, the money being spent or not being spent on programs. They could not get it. They had to go to court.
Ask the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner or the information commissioner what the government is like when it comes to accountability. Every watchdog that we have established over many hard years of debate to hold government to account has said that the most transparent government in history is not here, that the current government has thrown more of a cover over what is going on within its office than any government in Canadian history.
The RCMP raided the Conservative Party headquarters in 2008. One small note of helpfulness is that the government has kept the RCMP busy. Unfortunately, it is because of all these bad things going on. As well there is Elections Canada, the in and out scandal and laundering money through the central offices to make sure it could spend well above the limit, thereby not playing fairly.
Let us not forget Peter Penashue, who sat in that chair. My friends will remember that day after day we would ask questions of the good minister, who was being well paid, provided with a limo and had lots of staff. We would ask devastatingly difficult questions, like what the minister's mandate is, and he would stay seated. We would ask the minister what his plans were and he would stay quiet. We would ask him where he has visited and what communities he has consulted with. He was the intergovernmental affairs minister, and he spent all of his time in Labrador. That is not intergovernmental affairs. Lo and behold, he broke the election law and had to return a whole bunch of money because he spent over the limit.
There is the Senate scandal, Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter, and the former spokesperson for the , the member of Parliament for , who was also being taken to court by Elections Canada. There were robocalls, and the Wright-Duffy affair that I mentioned.
It seems amazing to me, and perhaps a culture. One cannot string all of these things together and say there is not a patterned language within the government. Time and time again, it simply says the rules do not apply to it, that somehow the democratic institutions that we have established, the watchdogs and the checks on power, do not apply to them. That is a level of arrogance that is dangerous in a free and fair society. It always catches up.
The government has used closure to shut down debate and discussion and avoid having to justify its policies. Here is the real danger with all of these closure motions. This is how it typically happens now. We get a motion like we did a couple of days ago, and the debate may not even have started and the government brings in closure. It does not matter whether the opposition agrees with the legislation or not, the government shuts down debate.
The challenge, risk, and difficulty is that these bills mean something sometimes and can have devastating effects if they are done badly. The government stacks witness lists at committee and limits the amount of time that government or opposition members can move amendments on legislation. Some of the pieces of legislation are incredibly complex. Any time we touch the justice system one has to be aware of unintended consequences, trying to go after one issue and not realizing it is doing more harm on another. These are things that the Conservative government has not been able to rectify.
What happens is that the government rams a list of pieces of legislation through Parliament by invoking closure and shutting down debate and then has to abandon them because they are illegal or unconstitutional. Or, it has the audacity to pass it all the way through the so-called chamber of sober second thought. Then it becomes law and we find out that the government's constitutional lawyers warned the government that its new bill was against the charter. Someone brings a charter challenge in the real world and wins, and the Canadian government and taxpayers spend millions of dollars defending a political photo op for some minister to say he was doing something. In effect, he was doing worse than nothing; he was doing harm because he gave people hope that something was going to change. The government writes a bad piece of legislation, rams it through and does not listen to anybody else.
However, never mind the opposition, what if the government members listened to themselves? This is what the current said regarding these closure motions that we are under today. He stated:
|| Mr. Speaker, here we go again. This is a very important public policy question that is very complex and we have the arrogance of the government in invoking closure again. When we look at the Liberal Party on arrogance it is like looking at the Grand Canyon. It is this big fact of nature that we cannot help but stare at.
That was the current industry minister arguing against the Liberals using closure inappropriately, but at not even half the pace that the Conservatives now do.
I have quotes from the whole front bench. It is incredible. Essentially, anybody who sat in opposition in the Conservative Party at some point detested this act. In particular I remember when the Reform Party came in. It not only wanted to clean up the corruption and entitlement that had grown under the Liberals for years, but also the basic fundamental democratic values that we hold, that Parliament should be the sacred place in which we come together and debate those issues as hard as we want, but that we debate and offer evidence: point and counterpoint.
Closure sends the absolute wrong message to Canadians about the health of our democracy.
The use of closure is another symptom from a government that does not only attempt to muzzle Parliament and the opposition. We saw the little fiasco in the dust-up with the media the other day where the government did not want reporters in, and heaven help any journalist, or the PBO, the Auditor General, government scientists, and even its own backbench, who asks the a question that is not scripted.
This is an interesting one for me because there is a unifying quality with these different folks, from the media to the watchdogs of Parliament to the government's own backbench from time to time. The unifying quality is that we do not accept every utterance that comes from the Prime Minister's Office as gospel. We do not treat what the government introduces as perfect and sacrosanct. The making of legislation is a difficult thing. It is hard. One should not be so arrogant as to think that when one writes it the first time one gets it right. A student writing a paper in high school does not believe that. Why would a government writing a 300-page justice bill think that every utterance, comma and period in that bill is perfect before it has heard from anybody else?
Now, the muzzling of the Conservative backbench is an interesting phenomenon. It bubbles up and simmers down and bubbles up and simmers down. It seems to be very much connected. The job description of somebody sitting in the so-called backbench is to hold the government to account. That is their main role: to hold the government to account.
I will quote from the member for , who said:
|| I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.
The reason he was upset was not because he did not get a softball question that the government throws out every once in a while; it was because the government refused to support his bill on transparency. He dug in his heels and showed some conviction.
For my colleagues on the Conservative benches, I wonder if that was not a signal. When the MP from British Columbia dared to bring up the issue that his constituents wanted to talk about, the issues surrounding a woman's right to choose about abortion services in Canada, the amount of pressure put on him to not even raise the issue was extraordinary. We end up with these very bizarre scenarios in which we, the opposition, go to the public to defend his right to represent his constituents, while his own party, his own government, suppresses that freedom to make a 60-second statement in the House of Commons on what he chooses. That is what we have come to.
For my colleagues on the backbench of the Conservative Party, it seems that there must come a point where enough is enough, as it was for our friend from Edmonton. There is the carrot-and-stick approach of the current the dangling of certain opportunities and trips, and maybe one day making it into cabinet so they can be shown what to say and do, versus the ability to actually represent people.
I can remember my first nomination race and the speeches we gave, or the private conversations we have had with supporters, saying, “I want to do things differently. I want to restore the faith. I want to diminish the cynicism. I want to take further power away from the guys within the PMO”. Remember when we used to say it is who one knows in the PMO? Well, who one knows in this PMO can get one thrown in jail it seems. This is a dangerous place that we have come to, where the federal police of our country are investigating the highest levels of power in the Prime Minister's Office.
Here we are today with a government that is so arrogant as to say that whatever it suggests should be decreed in law, regardless what Parliament thinks and regardless of how Canadians voted in the last election. It is that rot, that growing entitlement and arrogance, that moves so far away from the original intention of what that party may have once stood for. It will eventually, and of course, be its undermining, yet it cannot see that when it comes to these omnibus motions and shutting down debate more than any government in history.
This is a government that has refused to look at the evidence as it is. The evidence is that this place can function. Parliament can be a place where we engage with one another with our best ideas, our best thoughts, and the best voices we can have on behalf of the constituents we seek to represent. It need not be this place of acrimony, of a government abusing the tools available to it, of constant scandal, police investigations and Elections Canada investigations.
It can be a better place, where ideas from the right and the left can form a better and more perfect country. That is what Parliament is built to do, not what it is doing here with the government. In 2015, we will rectify that.