Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to Motion No. 18. It is an important motion, one that impacts the way we conduct business here in the chamber. I am also pleased to split my time with my friend and colleague, the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge. I know he too has a lot to say on this matter.
I think it is fair to say that members on this side of the House strongly believe the government is trying to stifle the opposition's ability to protect the people we are elected to serve. What separates us from tyranny and revolution is our right, lent to us by the people, to stand in this place and contest ideas and demand that the government explain itself.
These are not sunny ways. These are dark days for democracy. The Prime Minister is not interested in working with members on this side of the House of Commons. The government simply wants to get its agenda through the door, regardless of the impact on Canadians. The role of the opposition, as we all know, is to hold government to account, debate ideas, and represent the people in our constituencies. It has become clear over the past two years that the opposition is just an inconvenience to the Prime Minister's agenda. He wants an audience, not an opposition.
Back in March, the government attempted, among other things, to reduce the opportunity for members to hold the government to account. The government intended to do this by eliminating Friday sittings, putting automatic time allocation on bills, eliminating the effectiveness of committees through preventing opposition parties from triggering debates on reports, and implementing closure changes to committees.
How Motion No. 18 came about, late on a Friday afternoon when members of the House were either back in their ridings or on their way there, is very suspect. The government decided it was a good time to spring these changes on the members of the House. It was not the government House leader but her colleague who gave notice to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, on which I sit, that these matters would be studied and everything wrapped up in a couple of months.
Yesterday the official opposition's House leader, the member for Portage—Lisgar, mentioned four examples in recent years when the Canadian Parliament worked together to form a consensus on changes to House procedure: Pierre Trudeau's Lefebvre committee; the McGrath committee, set up by Brian Mulroney; Jean Chrétien's special committee on modernization and improvement; and the previous Conservative government, under the stewardship of Stephen Harper, which worked co-operatively with all parties to bring in permanent procedural amendments.
I am honestly at a loss as to why the government ignored previous parliamentary traditions on working collectively on changes to House procedure. I thought this was the government that campaigned on working together.
I am very proud that both the NDP House leader and the opposition House leader worked together to suggest an alternative, a special all-party committee to work on a consensus to review our procedures and to propose alternatives. This would have been an opportunity to put aside partisanship and work in a collegial spirit to strengthen, not weaken, members' ability to protect Canadians' interests. If the Prime Minister was truly committed to working with this Parliament, he should have seen the value in that proposal.
There is a reason that the two sides of this chamber are separated by two swords' lengths. There was a time when parliamentary democracy was not as collegial as it is today. One has to but open a history book to see what happens when the people have no power or when it is stripped from them. Blood has been shed in the fight to enshrine and protect the rights of members of Parliament to fully represent their constituents. The government intends to deprive us of those rights. It will perhaps not happen all at once, but if it is successful here in this instance, make no mistake: the erosion of the House of Commons will have begun, and before long I fear this place will become redundant.
I would now like to turn to a brief overview of the changes the government is proposing in this motion.
Within 20 days of a new session following a prorogation, the government has to submit a report explaining the reasons that it prorogued. This rule is nothing more than sleight of hand. The opposition already has means to demand of the government answers to why it prorogued.
We have an opportunity to scrutinize the government. It is called question period. Unless the government's aim is to limit the availability of the Prime Minister during question period or perhaps even limit the powers of parliamentarians to debate ideas in this place, then all that is needed for scrutiny is an open question period that the Prime Minister attends for as many days as possible. Perhaps the government has more foresight than we gave it credit for.
In all seriousness, the inclusion of this item in the motion before us is nothing more than basically checking a box in the Liberal 2019 election pamphlet. If Liberals have issues with prorogation, they simply should promise not to do it and stick with that promise.
That brings me to omnibus bills. Under these proposals, the Speaker of the House of Commons would have the power to divide those bills for the purpose of voting “where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions”. As the motion reads, the exception would be budget bills.
If I recall correctly, not so long ago the current government was in opposition and would raise a hue and cry over those same omnibus budget bills. Now Liberals stand here decrying these evil omnibus bills, except that now they will allow them if they are budget bills. I guess there was one thing for the campaign and another thing for after being elected.
The most recent government omnibus budget bill included the new Liberal infrastructure bank, a bank that will offer taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to cover the losses of wealthy foreign investors who build megaprojects in Canada. These are the kinds of bills the government has no problem passing in an omnibus bill, the kinds of bills for which it wants limited scrutiny. We are not even sure if members of the board of this $35-billion taxpayer-funded bank will be Canadians. We may see foreign directors funding foreign investors, with taxpayers on the hook for any losses. I do not understand this logic. Perhaps this is simply a means to balance out the election pamphlet that the Liberals are working on for 2019.
These first two items are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The following item is much more nefarious, and in this connection a March 26 Globe and Mail opinion piece warned the Canadian public to keep an eye on what is happening in Parliament.
According to the government, a new schedule for budgets and main estimates documents will be created so that the Treasury Board Secretariat can have time to have the main estimates reflect what is in the budget. This is not the case in reality.
I applaud that the government wishes to better coordinate the budget and the main estimates, but reducing the time the opposition and stakeholders have to scrutinize the main estimates is not the way to do it. This is an issue of time management, nothing more.
The main estimates, for the benefit of the public watching, are the instrument the government uses that leads to the eventual authorization by Parliament for the government to spend the public's money. Perhaps that is the heart of the issue. The government has never really been serious about financial accountability. I am not even sure it realizes where this money comes from. Here is a reminder: it comes from the Canadian public, the people who work hard day in and day out for their paycheques. That is who the money belongs to, and I think every Canadian would demand that there be parliamentary oversight on that procedure. The government cannot take away the right of the public to scrutinize government spending simply by reducing the time parliamentarians and other stakeholders have to examine the main estimates. It is not Parliament that is delaying the government's spending; it is the government's own internal practices. If the government wants better alignment, it should get the main estimates to us a lot sooner.
The last item I will speak to today centres on committee business. In an attempt to neuter opposition MPs, the government plans to introduce an amendment to prevent ministers from sitting on committees. Instead, it will allow parliamentary secretaries to sit as ex officio members. There is only so much time committees have, and with an extra member for the government at the table, we can bet that opposition time will be affected. These parliamentary secretaries might not be able to vote, but they will have every other right of committee members. They will be in a position to effectively steer the committee toward their ministers' agenda, and that is something Liberals directly campaigned against.
I am not saying that Parliament must not renew and review its parliamentary procedures from time to time. I am on the procedure and House affairs committee and I get it, but we are talking about consensus by all parties to come to an agreement on how this place works.