Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to debate the motion regarding the reinstatement of past bills in the House.
This is a very serious issue. The government is to be a new government with a new vision. It is supposed to be coming up with new ideas; however, it is asking the House to reintroduce bills from the previous session. As we know, the government has been recycling these bills.
Before I begin my arguments, I would like to say that there have been precedents in the past where previous governments have introduced bills at their previous stage. In 1970, 1972, 1979 and many times before, bills were re-introduced. Motions have been introduced in the House to reinstate previous bills into a new session of Parliament after prorogation.
What was the need to prorogue the House? It was because of mismanagement by the Liberals of their own affairs. They had the leadership contest in the previous session. They mistimed their own leadership contest. When the new leader came into power, he was supposed to have a new vision and new ideas for Parliament.
I accept that it is the practice for the government to reinstate bills in a new session. Marleau and Montpetit cite a number of precedents that have happened in the past. In 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1986 the House gave unanimous consent to motions to reinstate bills. In 1977 and 1982 the House adopted amendments to the Standing Orders to carry over legislation to the next session. There were motions in the House in 1991 and 1996, and since I arrived in the House in 1997, we have had similar motions for reinstatement in 1999 and 2002.
The reinstatement of bills expedites House business at the beginning of a new session. Bills that have already been studied can be reinstated to the point they had reached in a previous session. The House and members of committees do not have to waste their time and resources on questions that have already been settled.
Having said that, I still cannot help but find it ironic that we are here today considering the reinstatement of bills from the last session. After all, it was just one week ago today that the Governor General read the Speech from the Throne. I find one sentence in the throne speech particularly interesting in light of what we are considering today. It states:
This Speech from the Throne marks the start of a new government; a new agenda--
What new agenda was she speaking of? The throne speech contained a laundry list of promises, but nearly every one can be found in previous speeches from the throne by the same Liberal government. In fact, the core of last week's throne speech can be gleaned from the Liberal's 1993 red book. Needless to say, there is not much new about decade old promises.
The same government has been talking about restoring the public's faith in the management of government ever since it took over the reins of power in 1993. In that time it has done absolutely nothing but further erode the trust that Canadians have in their government by moving from one boondoggle to the next.
Does the government honestly think that keeping details of federal contracts given to Barbados shipping conglomerates hidden from the public will restore faith in government?
Need I say anything about the renewed promises for an independent ethics commissioner? I will believe that one when I see it.
By seeking to reinstate bills from the last session the Prime Minister is undermining all claims about being new. If the government was truly new, truly different from its predecessor, the Prime Minister could have chosen from three options.
First, he could have begun this session with a clean slate, introducing his own legislation that reflects his own priorities. That would have made perfect sense. Any government that is truly new would want to set out its own course and not reach back and steal the agenda of its predecessor.
Second, if the incoming Prime Minister did not have his own priorities, then he could have at least taken the existing bills of the last session and incorporated some of the constructive changes that have been proposed by members in this chamber, both from the official opposition as well as from other backbench members of Parliament. While this choice would not reflect any new ideas on the Prime Minister's part, it would at least mesh with his stated desire to give added power to backbench MPs. However, I am not holding my breath and waiting for this to occur either.
The Prime Minister's third option is to reinstate bills from the previous session with his own amendments.
However, the Prime Minister has chosen none of these options. He has instead decided to proceed from where Mr. Chrétien left off. In doing so, he ends all pretensions of being different or new in any way and continues with Mr. Chrétien's agenda in the same direction.
The important question is, why did the Liberals prorogue Parliament and waste all the work that was done in the House? In the process, why did the government keep the House adjourned for so long?
We are dealing with a tired, weak and worn out government, bereft of new ideas. There are a number of bills that the government is now trying to bring forward that we would seriously like to see dropped. If that were done, then probably there could be some agreement reached on the reinstatement motion.
Let us pause for a few minutes to consider some of the legislation, that died on the Order Paper when the government prorogued Parliament last fall, that I would like to exclude from this reinstatement motion. Let us begin with Bill C-34 which would, among other things, fulfill the Liberals' decade old promise to put in place an ethics commissioner who reports to Parliament.
The current ethics counsellor has no independence or investigative powers. He is completely controlled by the Prime Minister and reports in private to the Prime Minister about conflicts involving ministers. Mr. Wilson rubber stamps almost everything the Liberals do as ethical. The proposed new ethics commissioner would be more independent, although not nearly as independent as he could be. We are also getting an independent ethics officer to oversee the conduct of senators. The Prime Minister would retain the power to appoint both, after consultation with the opposition leaders. However, each choice would have to be ratified by a vote in the respective chamber.
The new commissioners would not be truly independent if only a majority vote by government members is required to ratify the appointments. Opposition approval should be required. This bill is primarily a public relations exercise. The Liberals want to go into next spring's election saying that they have done something. It will not work.
Let us consider why we need an ethics commissioner in the first place. It is because we cannot trust the government to police its own members. If the Liberals had passed this bill after their election in 1993, could the scandals and corruption of the last decade been avoided?
Would it have prevented the questionable contracting activities of former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano? Would it have prevented his successor from accepting personal favours from a departmental contractor? Would it have prevented the former defence minister from giving an untendered contract to his girlfriend, or the former solicitor general from lobbying his own officials to award millions in grants to a college led by his brother? Would this bill have prevented the Liberals from ignoring the Auditor General's charge that they had misstated the government's financial position by $800 million in 1996 and by $2.5 billion in 1997? Would it have prevented the government from interfering with the Somalia inquiry, when its efforts to get to the bottom of document destruction at national defence threatened to expose people at the top? Would it have prevented the government from attempting to obstruct the Krever inquiry into the tainted blood scandal, when it threatened to expose culpability on the part of the Liberals? Would the bill have prevented the systematic misuse of taxpayers' dollars for partisan purposes in the billion dollar boondoggle at HRDC? I do not think so.
There is Bill C-38, the government's misguided attempt to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. This legislation would do nothing to save our communities from the ravages of marijuana or the violence and crime that accompanies it. Rather, the bill would take us one step closer to the legalization of marijuana.
With this bill the Liberals are sending out the wrong message to Canadians, and particularly to young Canadians. Decriminalization makes it sound like it is okay to smoke pot. However, it is not okay. Studies show marijuana is four times more deadly than tobacco, whose use the government already spends hundreds of millions of dollars to discourage.
As for the increase in penalties for grow op owners, these are long overdue, but are meaningless if not enforced by the courts. The current law is not being applied. Grow op operators are sometimes receiving seven convictions without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell. What is the good in increasing maximum penalties if the courts are unwilling to hand out even weak sentences? What is really needed is minimum sentencing that will make people think twice before breaking the law. This bill should never be reintroduced as is. It seriously needs to be reconsidered.
Then there is Bill C-22 that proposes amendments to the Divorce Act. The assumption of shared parenting should be built into the Divorce Act. Shared custody encourages the real involvement of both parents in their children's lives.
On the other hand, we have Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code and other acts. Among other things, the bill would make it a Criminal Code offence to set a deadly trap in a place used for a criminal purpose. This would protect first responders, that is, firefighters, police, et cetera, whose lives could be endangered by entering such a place in the performance of their duties. I strongly support the bill because it deals with issues I have been pursuing for a number of years.
In fact, I introduced a motion in the House that was debated but rejected by the Liberals. What happened after that was that they stole the idea and put it into their own bill, Bill C-32. I do not understand why a motion introduced by an opposition MP was not good enough for passing in the House but the contents of the motion were good enough to be stolen and put into Bill C-32. That is the partisan nature of this place. However if any idea is good it should not matter whether it comes from the opposition or the Liberals.
In 2001 I introduced that motion and the Liberals rejected it, but we need to look at the issue seriously. There were 13,724 arson fires in Canada in 2002. I was alarmed to learn that over 30% of the fires in my home community of Surrey were as a result of arson. A very high percentage of them contained booby traps. There have been arson fires in schools and fiery explosions in residential neighbourhoods that have threatened the safety of citizens.
These fires are disturbing. Some were caused purely by mischief but many were set with more sinister intentions of covering up illegal activities, such as marijuana growing or methamphetamine labs. At other times, firefighters respond to calls only to find the premises booby-trapped with crossbows, propane canisters ready to explode, cutaway floor boards or other serious but intentional hazards. These malicious devices are intended to kill or injure anyone who interferes with the drug operation, including the firefighters. Firefighters in Surrey are especially at risk considering the growing number of marijuana grow operations that plague the city.
Bill C-32 is one bill that I would be pleased to see reinstated. Firefighters and other first responders have been waiting too long for this important legislation. However the government has been dragging its heels on the bill. It should be ashamed for delaying the bill for so long.
There is a history of precedents testifying to the long-standing practice in the House of allowing the reinstatement of bills at the same stage as this motion proposes. However if the Prime Minister truly believes that he heads a new government, he cannot call upon previous precedents where in every other instance there was no change in government.
The Prime Minister tries so hard to portray the government as new. Yes, the leader has changed, as have a few of his minions. The former lieutenant is now the commander but it is still the same old government making the same old promises.
By my count, the Speech from the Throne contained 31 uses of the word “new”. There were probably more. This was part of a feeble attempt to convince Canadians that they now have a new government. However all the “new” in the speech could not hide the fact that it was an old message. The Prime Minister wants to have his cake and eat it too.
The hon. House leader on Friday spoke of how a reinstatement motion avoids wasting Parliament's time and resources. His government should have thought about that before needlessly proroguing Parliament in the first place.
The government's plan to reinstate legislation from a previous session is further evidence, as if any more were required, that nothing has changed since the Liberals changed leaders. The new Prime Minister is continuing yet another practice of his predecessors. It is cynical practice and it manipulates the rules for electoral gain. Canadians will not be impressed.
The government's plan to reinstate legislation from the previous session is further evidence that nothing has changed since the Liberals changed leaders. They have been wasting the time of the House. We know the election will be called and nothing much will be accomplished. We have before us a tired government with a tired agenda that is interested in little more than remaining in office.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will understand why it is difficult for me to resist the temptation to take part in this afternoon's debate. We have just heard a version of the truth that strikes me as very odd. It does not match at all what I understand to be the question at issue.
First, let us consider whether a precedent is being set today. In my opinion, that would be a good place to start. In fact, believe it or not, Mr. Speaker—you must know this, because you are so objective and non-partisan—the House has been adopting similar motions for 30 years. It has been 30 years; that is a long time. I know, because I have been here a long time as well.
In 1970, 1972 and 1986, not only did we have similar motions but they were unanimously passed by the House of Commons. Unanimously.
I am sure that my hon. colleagues opposite who have spoken against the motion had not considered what I have just said, and that, in the light of these facts, they might want to change their minds and vote in favour of the motion proposed by the hon. government House leader.
Moreover, in 1991, 1996 and 1999, and even as recently as 2002, the House adopted motions absolutely identical to the one proposed today. I know something about those, because in 1996, 1999 and 2002, I was the government House leader, and so I remember it well. We already know it is not without precedent.
I should add, because some hon. members spoke about what they see as a democratic deficit, that in fact the democratic deficit is on the other side of the House, and we see what has happened.
The hon. members opposite wanted a motion that would reinstate private members' bills—not government bills but private members' bills. The House, in its wisdom, passed the motion. That means that now, an hon. member—more often than not someone from the opposition—can rise in the House and revive a private member's bill, at the stage already completed. At the same time, they say, “No, this rule is good for us, but it is not good for you, over on the government side”.
There is a democratic deficit on the other side of the House. I will come back to that later. The hon. government House leader has moved a motion, and we have just established that it is exactly identical to, the same as, those in past sessions, many of which passed unanimously.
Yet, what does the opposition do? The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, who was an excellent parliamentary secretary and is a known expert on the matter, told us earlier, and rightfully so, that in fact the motion does not reinstate any bill. It simply authorizes the government to bring back a bill from the previous session at the stage already debated and approved by this House. That is all it does.
Then we are left to ask the question, if the House has already voted on a piece of legislation, the hon. member across who has said there is a democratic deficit, why is he against our accepting the fact that the House has already voted on it? Is it not the basic concept of respecting the democratic principles to accept the fact that we have already voted regardless of whether we voted in favour or against?
Surely the House has voted and that should be respected. However, the hon. member said that it does not count. He wants a second kick at the can.
Mr. Speaker, in the unlikely event that I have not convinced you, let me tell you what other scheme the opposition is up to.
The government moved a motion, the one introduced by the hon. leader of the government in the House of Commons. The opposition introduced an amendment. Some would say fair game; any motion can be amended. However the opposition does not want the House to vote on its amendment. Why do I say that? It is simple. I know a few procedural tricks myself.
The opposition introduced a subamendment. For the benefit of all colleagues and perhaps anyone who is listening to this debate, when we are dealing with a motion as opposed to a bill, an amendment can be introduced and then a subamendment can be introduced. When the subamendment is dealt with, a new subamendment can be introduced so that we never get back to the original motion so that the government cannot move the previous question. If the government cannot move the previous question, that means the debate will go on forever and the motion will never be voted on. That is exactly what it means and I challenge any member across the way to tell me it means anything else. It means that the first motion cannot be voted on.
The opposition has created a situation where the only way to resolve the impasse is for the hon. minister to invoke closure. There is no other way, otherwise the democratic principle of voting on the motion can never be achieved. It can only be achieved by putting a motion that the debate end at some time because otherwise it will not end. If the hon. member says that is not true, then let him remove the subamendment and let him remove the amendment and let us debate the main motion.
Obviously the opposition does not intend to do that because it has created the two scenarios to force the government to move closure and then the opposition members stand here and sanctimoniously claim that the government is otherwise undemocratic because it has moved closure. They are the ones who provoked it. Did they not think we would see through that? Did they think that Canadians would not understand what I have just said? It is crystal clear. I am sure all Canadians understand how Parliament works. I am sure they understand that what the opposition is doing here is not democracy but the denial of it. That is what we have before us today.
I look forward to the exchange with the hon. member in questions and comments later when he explains to us how he was pretending with crocodile tears that there was some sort of democratic deficit, as he referred to it, because the hon. minister moved closure.
The hon. minister proposed a motion which we recognize has already been voted on democratically by the House of Commons, a debatable motion, a votable motion. Not only did members across not want to vote to accept that which the House had already voted on, which they should, they did not want to accept the principle that the motion in question be debated because they introduced an amendment and then a subamendment to stop us from getting back to the main motion. That is crystal clear. It would take only a few minutes for anyone who understands anything about how this place works to determine that is the case.
Why is the hon. member across afraid of voting on the motion? Is it, as the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River astutely pointed to earlier today, that the opposition does not know whether it is in favour of the reinstatement motion or against it ? Does the opposition simply want to amend it and subamend it so that it can be debated for eternity and thereby force the government to use closure so that in fact we vote on the closure motion?
In the end this will be quite interesting. I do not know when the closure vote will take place but presumably it will be very soon. After we vote on the subamendment and the amendment, I will be curious to see how the hon. member votes on the main motion. If he votes against the main motion, that means he fails to respect the fact that members have already voted on that issue. If he votes for the main motion, then I am forced to ask the question, why did he bother to put the amendment and the subamendment if he was in favour of the original proposition unamended?
Canadians will have to ask themselves these questions about the behaviour of the hon. member across and all of his colleagues who have proposed the amendment and the subamendment.
I would be very curious to know where the Conservatives opposite get their facts. May I also remind this House, since the member has now declared himself a Conservative—I must say, better him than me, and he can be sure I will never try to take his Conservative title away from him—that the Conservative Party had moved similar motions in 1986 and 1991. Perhaps he could tell us if he is against these reinstatement motions.
Could it be that the Conservatives were wrong when they moved these motions in the past? If he is in favour of reinstatement motions, why did his party put forward an amendment and an amendment to the amendment to prevent us from voting on the main motion?
That is what is before us today. In conclusion, allow me to point out what bills we are talking about.
A number of these pieces of legislation are very important.
Bill C-57, the Westbank First Nation self-government bill is an important bill. Why does the hon. member and his colleagues not want us to pick up where we left off on it? What about the Food and Drugs Act amendments, Bill C-56, of the last session? What about Bill C-54, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to transfer money to the provinces? Why is he against us recognizing the work that Parliament has done on these bills? Why is he against the Radiocommunication Act?
There was also the acceleration of the redistribution, Bill C-51. That is an interesting bill. We now hear that the so-called new Conservative Party, if that is not an oxymoron, is now against Bill C-51. It was the House leader of the then Alliance Party who asked for the bill in the first place in order to accelerate the redistribution. Now that party is against reinstating that bill and has threatened to amend the bill once it comes forward.
With regard to capital market fraud, the so-called Enron bill, why is the opposition against us wanting to increase transparency in the finance sector? What about Bill C-43, the Fisheries Act? What about Bill C-40, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act? It is interesting to note that this bill deals with tightening up security and the safety for Canadians, police work, et cetera. That party always alleges it is in favour of such measures, but it is not showing it.
What about Bill C-36, the Archives of Canada act. I remember a then Alliance member who worked very actively with me to amend that bill to make it go forward. I am looking at him right now, the critic for Canadian heritage of the then Alliance party. Why is he against us moving ahead with that bill when he worked so hard to get it improved and passed in the House? I do not understand.
What about the remuneration of military judges? What about Bill C-34, the ethics bill?
Not every one of these bills will be introduced by the government, but a large number of them will be. This is an enabling motion permitting the government to reintroduce every single one of them. Why is the opposition against that?
Let me go a little further by mentioning the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, Bill C-33. The opposition again, allegedly on the side of public safety, is against us moving ahead to bring that bill back at the stage it was at.
Criminal Code amendments should strike a chord with the folks across, but no they do not. I think principles have been overtaken on the opposition side. The hon. member across invoked so-called principles, but hon. members across saw an opportunity to, in their view, embarrass the government for moving closure very early when it came back.
As we have already established, once we have the amendment and the subamendment, we create the condition which can only be solved by having closure. One could argue very successfully, if it was looked at totally objectively, that it is the opposition that is forcing this closure upon the House, not the government.
Let me mention some more legislation. We have Bill C-27, the airport authority bill. Bill C-26, the Railway Safety Act, was in committee. Bill C-23, the registration of information relating to sex offenders, was passed at third reading and sent to the Senate. The opposition does not want us to reinstate that bill. It wants us to go back to the beginning presumably. What does the opposition have against us trying to improve the safety of Canadians by proceeding with the legislation in a more expeditious way, recognizing the work already done by hon. members of the House?
There are more bills. There is Bill C-7, the accountability of aboriginal communities bill. Surely hon. members would be in favour of that because they keep invoking it in speeches in the House of Commons. Assisted human reproduction, Bill C-13, was a bill that stayed for years in the House at various stages. There were white papers, preliminary bills, final bills, witnesses all over the place, and finally we received a conclusion to it and it was sent to the other place where it was not quite concluded there.
Why should we have to restart work that has already been done? Why can we not respect the democratic will of members who have seen fit to vote on that issue in the past and send it to the Senate. Surely that is respecting the democratic institutions, not the other way around.
Why does the hon. member not withdraw the subamendment and amendment? Of course we know that will not to happen because the opposition members are up to using procedural tricks to stop the government from proceeding with this. That is what they are doing. They are being excessively partisan again. The way they are behaving now it is a small wonder Canadians do not trust the opposition to form a government.
In conclusion, why do we not just carry the motion right now and reinstate those bills right where they were or allow the ministers in each case to reinstate the bills? It is not to skip steps in bills. It is merely to recognize the work already done by us, members of the House. What could be more democratic than that? That is what should happen right now, and surely that is the correct approach.
The hon. member's party itself gave unanimous consent for that exact motion before. I know because I put the motion to the House at the time. It passed without even debate in the House in the past. The hon. member knows that is correct.
Why does the member not remove the amendment and subamendment and carry the motion right now? Why does the member not stop this unnecessary foolishness of trying to force the government to do this in order to pretend that the government is moving closure whereas it would not have otherwise.
We know the truth. We all know what it is like. We want to recognize the work done by members on all sides of the House on all those pieces of legislation and recognize the value of their work.
I ask the hon. member again to allow this vote to take place right away. Then we can get to business, complete this legislation and proceed with other legislation, all for the betterment of Canadians. That is what we are for on this side of the House. Let us see if the hon. member across is in favour of his partisanship or is in favour of helping Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, we have a pretty convoluted set of propositions there, but let me deal with some of them.
The hon. member is asking me how many times the opposition has caused obstruction, forcing the government to react to his obstruction. The short answer is, “All the time”. The hon. member and his party across have obstructed very frequently in the House. The government still managed to provide good governance for Canadians notwithstanding that kind of partisanship the hon. member has just described. Now, to quantify it, to say that the hon. member caused this obstruction 50 or 60 times, I do not know. He can enter his own plea of guilty and put the number of times beside his plea of guilty. That should satisfy him, whichever way he likes.
The hon. member I think raised an issue here as to this motion and why closure is the final disposition as opposed to time allocation. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, we cannot time allocate a motion. We can only time allocate a stage of the bill. There is only one remedy for a motion once people obstruct and cause an amendment and a subamendment. No, there are two remedies, actually. They could withdraw the ridiculous obstruction, which is certainly the easiest way. Or, failing the opposition coming to its senses, the government is left with only one choice and that is in fact to move closure, because it is the only remedy.
Now, insofar as the hon. member saying this is undemocratic, that is nonsense, absolute nonsense. Private members' motions are time allocated. Private members' bills are time allocated. After a specific number of hours, they come to an end. In the U.K. House and in a number of Australian legislatures that we visited, after a set amount of time at the end of the day, usually one day, the stage of a bill or a motion is complete and it is voted on. So in fact, everything has, if I may use these words, closure, or everything is time allocated to that one day when it is debated.
What do we have here? Let me tell members what we have here. We have the government moving a motion to reinstate or to permit ministers to reinstate those things already voted on and to allow the House to recognize the debate and the votes that have already taken place. Hon. members across are against that.
Not only that, they do not even want to vote on the motion. They circumvent it by proposing an amendment and a subamendment, so that if by chance the debate on the subamendment eventually collapses, instead of resuming debate on the main motion, which of course could be the subject, as I said a while ago, of moving the previous question, we would continue to debate the main amendment, which the opposition could subamend one more time, which means it never comes to an end. If the hon. member says that is not procedurally correct, then let him explain to the House how procedurally it is otherwise.
It is not a coincidence that the members across put an amendment and a subamendment. It is designed that way because members opposite know perfectly well that the only way to put an end to it is by moving closure. They have deliberately caused this closure to occur by constructing the scenario that is before us. There is no other explanation possible and no other purpose to moving an amendment and a subamendment to a motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to pick up on the points that were made by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, the former House leader. It begs the question, why are we faced with the government motion and the amendments from the opposition? The reason is simply because the government, under the former prime minister, and I have to say in full cooperation of the current Prime Minister, prorogued the House when it had a great deal of work that needed to be done, and the country's interest demanded government attention.
The Liberals were more interested in carrying on the internal battle between the then sitting prime minister and the about to be prime minister. That was much more important for the government and for that political party than the overall interests of this country. That is why we are here today and why we started this debate on Friday, and we will continue it at least through the day tomorrow. The Liberals put their interests, as a political party, and to some degree the personal political interests of the two men ahead of the interests of this country.
To suggest, as the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell just did, that this is a normal procedure is debatable in the extreme. The reality is the legislation as it has come back has not been changed at all. This is not a signal by the new government under the new Prime Minister that we will have major changes. This is simply a continuation of bills that were before the House at various stages in November when the Liberals decided to prorogue the House. We are not seeing any new bills or any changes in the bills. They are coming back holus-bolus just as they were before the legislature was stopped.
The abuse of the process that this represents is compounded by the financial impact of all the extra work that has to be done now, extra work by individual members and their staff on private members' bills and extra work by staff of the House of Commons. The prorogation, which occurred in November, has cost the country substantial amounts of extra dollars, extra staff time and extra effort, all of which was unnecessary if the government had simply taken its responsibility to the country seriously.
The position of the NDP, with regard to the government motion for reinstatement of the legislation, is we are not prepared to give it a blank cheque. Had the motion listed specific bills that the government would be bringing back, certainly some of them we would have been agreed to out of respect for the country. However, others should not be brought back, and I will go on to that in a few moments.
The difficulty we have is simply telling the government to go ahead, do whatever it wants with regard to these bills in terms of bringing them back and we will be prepared to stand back. That is a complete abdication of our responsibility as opposition members. When we hear the former House leader talk about democracy and democratic deficit and that somehow we are contributing to that, he is just dead wrong.
The opposition's role is to speak out when there is abuse, and that motion is abusive when we look at the history and how it came to be in front of the House at this time.
However, there are some points I want to make with regard, in particular, to the subamendment by the opposition to its amendment to the main motion. I am not sure if anybody understood that, but it is the subamendment that deals with Bill C-49 that would allow the Prime Minister to call an election as of April 1, if the Liberals can get this bill through the House of Commons and the Senate.
To some significant degree, I am going to be accusatory of members of the official opposition about the amendment and subamendment. They are trying to prevent the government from being in a position to call an election this spring because they know full well that they are not going to be in a position to fight that election very effectively. Given that their leadership convention is in the latter part of March, they will not be in a position to have its platform in any kind of shape. They probably will not have a lot of their candidates prepared to run in an election that everyone thinks will be called in April and held in the early part of May. That is really what this is about.
I think it is accentuated by the fact that when the bill was originally before the House the former Alliance, now part of the Conservative Party, in fact supported what I think was Bill C-52 at that time, and now in the form of Bill C-49. That position was unequivocal on its part. I can remember some of the speeches its members gave in the House at that time saying that we had to recognize the need for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta to get those additional seats and that they should definitely be in place and ready to be part of the electoral process in the next election.
Events have overtaken the members of the official opposition and they now appear to be opposed to the bill going through. I can tell everyone on behalf of my party, although we think that the election should be held some further in the future, we are ready for the election at any time.
The other point I want to go back to is the process that has also brought us to this point, and that is the role the Senate has played on the bill, as well as Bill C-34, the ethics commissioner's bill. I think the country generally knows, and we are certainly aware of it as members of Parliament, that both pieces of legislation, the bill to change the date for the boundaries to come into effect and the bill dealing with the implementation in a broader way of the use of the ethics commissioner for both the House and the Senate, were before the Senate the first week of November when the House adjourned. Rather than staying, working on those bills and passing them, the bill that dealt with the boundary issue was ignored and the other one was sent back.
There are a couple of points that need to be made about this. We did some checking on this and in all of the sessions we have had since the start of Parliament in 1867, this Parliament has seen the most bills either sent back or not dealt with by the Senate. We have set a record in that respect. Interestingly, the previous record was in the very first session in 1867, and I have to assume it was because they were still learning the ropes.
We have not even come particularly close. There were a couple of sessions in the 1920s when there were about 11 or 12 bills sent back or not dealt with by the Senate. There were 15 in the first session. So far we have had 18 bills not dealt with or turned back by the Senate.
Being a bit of a student of history of the country and of the role the Senate has played and should play, it begs the question, how many more does it have to turn down, send back or ignore before we are in a constitutional crisis? We have had a large number bills this time, and those two bills were part of that. The Senators simply went home. They were upset with the prime minister over the ethics commissioner's bill and a couple of other bills and they said, “To heck with it, we are going home”, and they did. As a result, the legislation that would have allowed the redistribution of the ridings to take place at an earlier date has been forced to be brought back once again.
We are in a situation where the government wants to do something. The House of Commons has passed the bill and the Senate has thwarted it. The question will be, once it does come before this House, and it will one way or the other in the next week or two, and then goes back to the Senate, will the Senate again try to thwart the will of the elected representatives in the country?
It begs the question regarding the role the NDP has played for a long time in advocating the abolition of the Senate. Are we getting closer to the rest of the parties, realizing we can no longer tolerate that type of interference with the democratic process. We cannot ignore the costs of having the Senate around, which runs at about $60 million a year, doing work that is generally undemocratic and useless.
The other point I would like to make is with regard to the position that we hear from the government. This again comes back to the democratic deficit. We are now faced with the notice that closure will be invoked sometime later today or early tomorrow and this debate will be closed down. Again, we are faced with the reality that the new government, as it keeps wanting to call itself, is following exactly the same pattern as the old government.
We had in the prior sessions more motions for closure from the government than we had at any time in our history, and we will compound that tomorrow when it invokes closure.
With regard to the legislation itself, I want to be somewhat critical of the comments from the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, the former House leader. He said that the government was bringing back the same bills on which members had voted. He said that we were interfering with the democratic process in which we had already participated.
Of these bills, I want to mention some bills that jump to the fore in my mind because I had some involvement with them along with our member for Winnipeg Centre. These are the bills that deal with the aboriginal governance legislation, Bill C-7 and Bill C-19, but Bill C-7 in particular. The member suggested nothing really had changed, that the democratic process worked. The reality is the current sitting Prime Minister undermined that legislation, undermined his own party and undermined the ministers of natural resources and aboriginal affairs on that legislation.
It is very clear that the first nations were dramatically opposed to the legislation, and we know that. We had issues brought back to the House on how controversial the hearings were in committee after second reading. This Prime Minister, sitting as a member of Parliament, sent out a very clear message to his supporters within the Liberal Party, who are members of this House, to the first nations and to the country generally that he did not support the legislation. Now we hear that at the very least it is possible the government will bring it back unchanged.
There was a democratic process that went on in that period of time. The first nations said that it was 100% opposed, adamantly opposed, to the legislation, Bill C-7 in particular, because it perpetuated the patriarchal attitude that underlies the current Indian Act.
The now sitting Prime Minister took advantage of that and said that he agreed the legislation was not very good and that all of it would have to reviewed. Now we hear that the government wants to bring it back at the same stage, as originally passed by the House. It has gone through second reading, been approved in principle, been through exhaustive hearings in committee, then back to this House. I believe its been through report stage and is just awaiting debate at third reading.
In spite of what the Prime Minister told first nations, that he was opposed to the legislation and that if he were prime minister it would not go through as is, the legislation could be back in front of the House in the next week or two at third reading. There would be minimal debate at that point and it could be passed.
Things have changed in the country since that legislation went through. I use that as an example of why the NDP is not prepared to give the government a blank cheque. We are not prepared to let all the legislation come back simply by having the ministers stand up in the House and say that they want legislation back at the same stage it was at when the House was prorogued back in November. We are not prepared to do that, and we are adamantly opposed to the motion.
Mr. Speaker, this is indeed a very interesting debate. It is particularly interesting because of the apparent hypocrisy of the position that the current Prime Minister is taking.
I used the word hypocrisy once in deference to the Chair. I used that word because on one side of the coin our current Prime Minister would like us to believe that this is a brand new government. He is a brand new Prime Minister with a brand new cabinet and a brand new approach to politics in Canada. Everything is completely brand new.
We are supposed to forget that under Jean Chrétien we had 10 years of an oppressive government that rammed things through the House and consistently whipped votes. For people who are not familiar with parliamentary language, that simply means that backbenchers were treated like trained seals. They were told how to vote. We are told to forget that.
We are told that the 10 years that we had under Jean Chrétien, which had very questionable parts to them, belong to the old Liberals. The new Prime Minister is brand new; everything is new. Everything is fresh such as new Tide or new Ultra or whatever the soap of the day is. Yet the Prime Minister turns around and says that he wants to recycle all of the bills or have the opportunity to recycle all of the bills that were passed in the previous two sessions.
In the previous two sessions these bills that went through the House of Commons were whipped bills. Backbenchers were told how to vote and they voted obligingly and obediently, notwithstanding the views, wishes, desires or direction of their constituents. Their constituents did not matter. It was because the Prime Minister at the time, the former House leader, who spoke a few minutes ago, the finance minister and now the Prime Minister, as one of the senior members of the government, told them how to vote and to heck with the constituents. The bills were just forced through.
The government wants to turn around and use this reinstatement legislation to pick and choose which of the bills from the old regime it wants to bring into this new regime. The government cannot have it both ways. Either he is a new Prime Minister, and he has a new cabinet and a new agenda, or he is a retread. He is simply digging back into the past into what he himself has said is a discredited past. The government cannot have it both ways. I find this absolutely astounding.
We have learned, and certainly I have learned in the 10 years that I have had the privilege of representing the people of Kootenay—Columbia, that the Liberals are masters at managing the news.
The government has a fairly heavy day coming at it tomorrow. The Auditor General will be reporting how much taxpayers' money was actually slid through to the supporters of the Liberal Party. We know that the national news media is in something of a frenzy at this point. I can pretty well guarantee, whether it is Global, CTV, CBC or the A-Channel or any other network, that the lead item on the 6 o'clock, the 10 and 11 o'clock news will be the Auditor General's report.
Why then would the government not take advantage of the fact that it will be the big issue tomorrow, as indeed it should be--certainly with the kind of abject waste and mismanagement, and in some cases criminal activity that occurred under the previous administration--and not just slide this closure through at that point? It is a very neat trick. The Prime Minister knows that the Liberals will be paying a dear price tomorrow, as they darn well should, and so he says “Why do we not just get this through?”
Is it not hypocritical on one side of the coin to say that he is new, that his cabinet is new--almost as though we had gone through an election for people who consider themselves to be the naturally governing party in a general election--and then turn around and say that he is going to take some of these old bills that have been passed?
We noted that the government under Jean Chrétien made use of time allocation 75 times and closure 10 times. That is a parliamentary record, as my colleague from Surrey pointed out. The Liberals used it 85 times to stifle debate in the House of debate, where I and the rest of the members have an opportunity to represent the views, wishes, desires and direction that we get from our constituents when we are home.
However, in spite of that, I point out that the former Prime Minister at least had the decency, such as it was, to wait a year and a half before he moved his first closure motion. I should point out, Mr. Speaker, and you may possibly have noted, that when Prime Minister Mulroney moved closure and time allocation, there were many opposition Liberal members who raised an awful howl and it was the worst thing in the world. Well, the former Prime Minister and the former House leader who just finished speaking eclipsed anything that Mr. Mulroney did.
The current Prime Minister has waited one week. We recall that in this chamber, exactly seven days ago following the Speech from the Throne, following this all new detergent that had occurred in this chamber, this all new Prime Minister and this all new party was starting afresh. And one week later, not a year and a half, he is bringing in closure.
The Prime Minister, in bringing this motion--and it does come fully with the approval of the current Prime Minister, let us be clear--has basically done more to drive the democratic deficit problem, to which he keeps on referring, deeper down and embed it further in this place than anyone in the history of the House of Commons.
The fact is that, as I believe my colleague was just pointing out with respect to the gun registry, on one side of the coin the Prime Minister says that he will empower all the backbenchers. What a revolutionary idea. My goodness, he must have come across the same thing that I did, and that was an advertisement showing Preston Manning, the then leader of the Reform Party, saying “Who does this seat in the House of Commons belong to?”
Our whole campaign, as the Reform Party in 1997, was around the issue that I, my party, all of my colleagues, and the leader of the day--and subsequently our party policy--would represent the views, wishes, desires and directions of the people of Canada from our seats. He must have seen the same advertisement and thought to himself, “My, what a great, revolutionary idea”. It took him seven years to find it, but he trots it out and says that he will allow free votes in the House of Commons.
The next day he was asked by my very competent colleague from Yorkton what he would do about the gun registry, the gun registry that has blown away $1 billion when it was only to cost $2 million, the gun registry which the government actually has ended up penalizing and registering law-abiding citizens, but on the other hand it will not register sex offenders. He was asked what he would do about that. Clearly we know there are people who are representing the views, the wishes, the desires and the direction of their constituents; there are people on the backbenches who want to do the right thing and abolish this crazy boondoggle gun registry, so the member asked the question.
It did not take the government a week to flip flop on that one as it has on closure. No, it took the government a bit less than 24 hours to flip flop on that one. Now when people come around and say that the member for Kootenay—Columbia and the member for Brandon—Souris have been around for 10 years, and would it not be nice if there were a government member on their side, then at least they would be getting proper representation, they should not believe it, because the Liberal backbenchers will continue to be whipped into shape.
I believe it was the House leader I just saw in news reports saying, “Actually, probably what the Prime Minister was referring to was that we could have free votes on private members' business”. How shallow is that? Unless the government decides that it will cherry-pick from private members' business, as my friend from Surrey has pointed out, and actually extract pieces of private members' business and put them into its own legislation and claim them for its own--and gee, that is something I have never heard of the Liberals doing before--unless we are talking about that, private members' business basically is nothing more than the ability for private members to give the government a bit of a push.
This is revolutionary. We will now have free votes in the House of Commons on private members' business. Guess what. We have had that for the last two sessions. What is new? Nothing is new, except in the Prime Minister's mind. He is talking about being new.
Let us take a look at some of the pieces of legislation that we have passed and which he does want to bring in. The one I am thinking of in particular, because I have some familiarity with it, is what is now called Bill C-2. It is a bill that will penalize people who are involved in bringing electronic equipment into Canada for the purpose of getting under the CRTC rules and by getting under the CRTC rules they can then make a profit by literally stealing signal from the providers of the satellite signal that is beaming down on earth.
As we debated earlier in the day, the Liberal approach is to say “Let us penalize. Let us go after them. Let us control it”. What a tremendous idea: let us control electronic innovation; let us control technology. I do not know what planet the Liberals come from. Certainly it does not have anything to do with this century or with the revolutions that are occurring electronically with computers, with satellites, with our ability to communicate. It borders on being impossible even to keep up with what is going on.
The Liberals are bringing in rules to try to control something that is uncontrollable, but it makes them feel better. We need a fresh approach on that bill. The legislation as it is presently written, technologically is simply not feasible.
Let us take a look at another one, the legislation on human reproduction. There was a bill that if there was ever any whipping going on, it would have gone on with that bill.
I recognize that the member is the former House leader and does not speak for the current government. He has raised that bill as an example of bills where the votes of the House of Commons have been done and therefore we should not be turning our backs on those votes. Clearly he has chosen to forget how he, as the government House leader giving direction to the whip of the day, had people quaking in their boots.
I do not know what kind of pressure the Liberals can put on their backbenchers to make some of them certainly appear to me to be voting against their most closely held personal values. I do not know what kind of pressure that is, but it is that pressure that has given us the raft of legislation that we presently have at various stages in the House or at stages in the other place. That legislation was all brought about as a result of a regime that the current Prime Minister claims to reject. He claims to reject it. How shallow is that? It is amazingly shallow.
In taking a look at the procedures that the House has at its disposal, I recognize that the former House leader, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, is probably a master of those procedures. Certainly he used all of his background and knowledge, his trips around the world and his time at Westminster to put pressure on his backbenchers and to use that kind of pressure within the House to push those bills through.
I therefore wonder how genuine it is for him to say that these bills have been passed and therefore we should be making sure they have the opportunity to be handled. He did not answer the question of my friend from Surrey. When my friend put it to him that this is the first time in British parliamentary history that a new prime minister has simply reached back into an old prime minister's grab bag of bills, he did not answer that question. I am sure my friend noticed that.
With the amount of background, understanding and knowledge that the former House leader has of the historic British parliamentary system around the world, it becomes very clear to me that we have probably hit on something. The new Prime Minister is actually creating history not only in Canada but in the British parliamentary system.
It is absolutely unconscionable that the Prime Minister and the government would bring this notice of closure to the House. It is unconscionable in itself. I am going through the dictionary in my brain and I am not capable of coming up with a word that would be creative enough perhaps to get past the Speaker's excellent chairing of this session. Let me just say I find it unbelievably amazing that the Prime Minister has the chutzpah to turn around and say that he is dealing with the democratic deficit in this way. He is saying that he is new. How can he say that with a straight face? The democratic deficit is real and its dain belongs to the Prime Minister.
Mr. Speaker, to pick up on that last point saying that it has never been done before, it has been done before on many occasions but with the same Prime Minister and so here is an occasion where it is a new Prime Minister and so this has occurred. A law is a good law worth debating if it is the same Prime Minister but it is not a good law if it is a different person who brings it forward.
I would think the agenda and how good the law is should decide whether it should be brought back and not whether it is the same prime minister who brings it back.
This is a motion that would allow bills from the previous session to be reinstated at the same stage they were when Parliament was prorogued. This is a particularly important motion since there are a number of pressing issues facing us in this session that will require immediate attention. We would like to get on with them and not be held up by those members in the opposition who just want to go back and say what they said before on all these bills.
We need to find ways of ensuring that members are not forced to waste their time repeating work on bills from the previous session, some of which were close to being passed into law. Such an exercise would amount to little more than a parliamentary charade whose only function would be to eat up valuable House time and resources that can be better used to address new matters of great importance to Canadians.
These matters include: ensuring that Canadians continue to have access to excellent health care; enhancing public safety; making sure our men and women in uniform have the equipment and support they need to serve their country; democratic reform; maintaining the highest possible ethical standards in government; and, making sure our children who are, after all, the future of our country, get the best possible start in life.
However it is not just a matter of freeing up time for important new initiatives. It is also a matter of making sure that important bills from the previous session get moved forward as quickly as possible so they can make a difference in the lives of Canadians. This would include legislation such as Bill C-49 which would reflect the demographic character of our country by updating our electoral boundaries so they represent the composition of our very dynamic nation.
In this instance it is quite astonishing that the Conservatives would oppose this particular aspect as it would give more seats to Alberta and British Columbia. I thought the new Conservative Party would have strong support for the west and be supportive of the west.
Another bill is Bill C-34 which would enhance Canadians' confidence in Parliament by creating an independent ethics commissioner and a Senate ethics officer. There is a whole set of other bills aimed at enhancing public safety, such as the public safety act 2002, amendments to the Criminal Code to protect children, and the Westbank First Nations self-government act.
Most members are quite aware of a number of those bills and I think opposition members spoke in favour of aspects of some of those bills. Therefore it is somewhat astonishing that they would not allow a provision to bring back concepts that they thought in general were good.
I do want to talk about the Westbank First Nations self-government act because many people may not be as aware of that as they are of some of the other bills that may have had more air time in the House. It is partly because of my present responsibility but I am very excited about this. I am always excited about passing self-governance on to first nations so they can take care of their own affairs and have modern governments and new relationships with other governments. That bill was first put forward on November 5, 2003 and it has gone to committee. I cannot imagine the other parties being against that. I think they are all in favour of allowing first nations to move forward, so I do not know why they would not allow us to bring this forward?
The bill would ensure some fiscal and political accountability for the Westbank First Nation in British Columbia. It would ensure the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to that first nation and it would set out a new relationship between governments. All in all I think it is a good news story. It is an example of the type of bills that we could bring back and debate quickly rather than starting all over and saying things that we all agree with in the first place.
Are these measures on which we can afford to slow down by insisting that they restart their journey through the parliamentary process from the very beginning, with virtually the same speeches being delivered by members at each stage of the debate and the very same witnesses being called to make exactly the same presentations and to hammer away on the same points they raised a few months ago? Is that really what we want to do?
An hon. member: Yes.
An hon. member: Absolutely not.
Mr. Larry Bagnell: There we have it. The Conservative member across the floor has just said yes. The opposition wants to bring all these bills back, give the same speeches delivered by members at each stage of debate, the very same witnesses being called to make exactly the same presentations and hammer away on the same points they raised a few months ago.
For a party that suggests in its platform--and I assume it will be the same in its new platform--that it would like to cut government expenditures and save money, to support this dramatic waste of money, with the expenditure of everyone giving the same speeches, is absolutely an astonishing hypocrisy. It is on the record here in the House of Commons.
It will be really hard for them to stand up tomorrow and say that they would like to cut expenses after suggesting that we expend more for no reason at all. Is there anyone here who thinks that repeating all this again will benefit Canadians?
The member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam has said that he would like to waste the money. I did not want to put this all on his party. He said that he particularly would like to have all these speeches again, all the witnesses again, all this waste of taxpayers' money when there are very important things waiting for the country, important things that were talked about in the throne speech, such as improving defence, dealing with poverty, the disabled people, moving aboriginal people forward and improving social conditions.
All these things the members would like to hold up so that they can, as they said, repeat their speeches and have the same witnesses give the same speeches again.
When it has been done, as I said a minute ago, six or seven times in history, it shows why there is no respect for the opposition and its incomprehensible position.
The mechanics of the motion, which should not be new to anyone because it was done in the past, would allow a minister to seek the reinstatement of a government bill within 30 days after the start of the session and after a motion is adopted if the bill is in the same form it was in the previous session. With the permission of the Speaker, it could then be brought back at the same stage at which it stood prior to prorogation,which means that work could start on these bills where they left off, including study by committees. People could still have their say on these bills but we would not be going back and repeating what we have already done in the House.
I repeat that this is not new. The opposition members are acting as if this is a first time new process, so that is why they should oppose it. However in 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1986 the House gave unanimous consent to a motion reinstating bills. The House adopted a similar motion under a previous government in 1991.
If all the parties in the House during each of those times gave unanimous consent, what credibility does a party have today to oppose it?
In 1977 and 1982 the House adopted amendments to the standing orders to carry over legislation to the next session. In the more recent past, March 1996, the House adopted a similar motion. In October 1999 the House adopted a similar motion to the one before us today to allow it to carry on its work from the previous session.
Finally, the proposed motion is similar to standing orders that allow private members' bills to be reinstated following prorogation.
All of this suggests that the motion is far from revolutionary with ample precedents in place to show that its features are consistent with the past practices of the House.
However, for these proposed procedures to successfully free up members from the needless drudgery of having to repeat work done in the last session of Parliament we first need to pass the motion. Only then will we have the tools we need to clear away old business and start working and tackling other urgent issues facing our great nation.
It is for this reason that I urge all of my colleagues in the House, from all parties, representing all regions and points of view, to join with the government in passing and implementing the motion before us today.
I want to respond to one of the comments made by a member across the way who said that it was not a new government. It would be inconceivable for anyone to think that when there is a break in the Parliament of Canada, whether it is the old government in office or whether it is a new government, that there would not be some legislation with some benefit left on the books at that time. Is the member suggesting that because a different person is bringing forward legislation to help children or provide public safety he thinks it is less worthy than it was before? Is it any less worthy than if the same prime minister had brought it forward? That argument would be hard to bring forward.
It is interesting to hear the opposition members talk about the democratic deficit. It will be interesting to see how open the opposition is and how they will vote on this particular motion. It will be interesting to see how democratic they will be when they vote on this motion.
There is another point that other parties have made in the debate so far today which does not stand up at all and is totally contradictory. It is their statement that the bills should have been finished in November instead of the House being prorogued. So the bills were good enough to finish then, but now they are saying not to bring them back, not to finish them. Really, I have not heard one good argument yet from anyone that the legislation that was unfortunately stopped at the break should not be brought back for the good of Canadians and brought back quickly, without repeating all the same speeches and having the same witnesses appear before committees, wasting Canadians' time. Then we can get on to the important priorities that were outlined in the throne speech.
I gather from the limited questions on the throne speech in question period that it must have been fairly acceptable to all the other parties, because they are off on other tangents and not questioning it and not criticizing it and its many positive items.
Mr. Speaker, I will not be splitting my time, as I think might have been indicated to you earlier.
It is a pleasure to stand and speak on this, but unfortunately we are not dealing with new substantive policy questions or even, frankly, some substantive policy questions that are of real and predominant concern to my constituents or to the entire province of British Columbia.
In fact, the whole idea of bringing back old government legislation and not bringing forward anything new is probably awkward for a lot of Canadians who are watching this debate here today and who will be paying attention in the coming months as we head into an election campaign. They look to this House to get a sense of what the parties are about, of what makes us different and of how the current and new Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard and the former finance minister, is really any different from the former prime minister, whom he pushed out of office in what a political science professor described to me two days ago as a civilized coup d'état.
If we ask the average everyday Canadian for the three reasons why the current Prime Minister replaced the old prime minister at the Liberal convention in Toronto just a few months ago, I think most people would say the current Prime Minister pushed out the old prime minister for three broad reasons, number one being that the old prime minister had been around too long, that he was too old and it was time for him to go. In point of fact, the current Prime Minister is about the same age as the former.
The second reason given for why we had to get rid of the old prime minister is that there is a democratic deficit in the country and it has to be addressed. That was reason number two why we had to get the current Prime Minister into that chair as soon as we possibly could. The reality is that the current Prime Minister is engaged in his own dramatic democratic deficit by not allowing for the free sale of memberships in the Liberal Party of Canada, by not respecting the votes that we have had in the House in the past, by invoking closure in his first couple weeks in the House as the current prime minister, by not allowing provinces to elect their own senators, by not allowing free votes on gun legislation and a whole host of things.
Therefore, these were three arguments about why he should have been prime minister. First, the old prime minister was too old; he is the same age. The second reason is that the democratic deficit needs to be addressed; he has failed on that count already. The third reason he said that he had to be prime minister was that we had to have this new deal for cities, a new agenda, a new grand, big vision idea for cities. The reality is what we saw in the throne speech: he does not have a new deal for cities. There is no new grand vision for cities and municipalities in the country. What he proposed and in fact delivered in the throne speech, eventually through order in council, is that municipalities in the country will be allowed to get their GST rebated back to them effective February 1, 2004.
This is what that means, for example, for a city like the city of Port Coquitlam, which will be the largest city in the new riding of Port Moody--North Coquitlam. If it bought some new sand and salting trucks and spent $50,000 on those trucks, it would pay about 4% GST, normally, because municipalities do not pay the full freight. The government is now going to rebate the city the full GST. And that is it for the average mayor who was promised a big new deal.
Again, when we hear the words “new deal” a lot of people hearken back to FDR. We think of a grand vision, a new deal, a Marshall plan type of macro economic approach or a really dramatic central piece of legislation that dramatically changes the way the government functions or the economy is shifting or the government's relation to its citizens. But in fact, the new deal for cities that this Prime Minister put forward is really nothing. All it is, is a further GST rebate that further complicates the tax code, makes the GST less efficient than it was before and does not give to municipalities the steady stream of financing that they were expecting when the Prime Minister promised them a new deal for cities.
Also, the fake new deal for cities, and in fact, the new deal for suckers, as I have been calling it, is merely a GST rebate that allows the current Prime Minister to cut cheques to mayors across the country just in time for a general election, certainly with political IOUs inferred. That very deal of the GST rebate scheme that he has set up violates the very democratic deficit that he said he was coming into power to get rid of.
When he came into power, he said, “Got to get rid of the democratic deficit”. On October 7, 2003, the House voted--and the Standing Committee on Transport concurred--202 in favour of and 31 against, I believe it was, the federal government starting immediate negotiations with provinces to transfer gas tax points immediately to provinces and municipalities so they could get immediate cash going in. There is something about the vocabulary of this Prime Minister such that he apparently does not understand what the word “immediately” means, because he has completely failed to keep the promise of the House. He has betrayed the confidence of the House.
His own vote in the House, the vote of the current finance minister and all members of the House except the Bloc Québécois showed they believed that the real new deal should happen and gas tax dollars should be flowing to municipalities. This Prime Minister has again failed municipalities and instead is giving them a GST rebate. In fact, all it will do is allow him to cut a whole bunch of cheques--$48 million a month to the treasury--to cities and mayors so that he will look good just in time for a general election campaign.
It is cynical. It is bad tax policy and it makes the GST less efficient and opens it up for complications. It will require negotiations with provinces anyway because of the harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada. Also in some ways it may even be perceived by the people of Quebec, who are certainly rightly sensitive about these things, as yet again the federal government coming into an area of provincial jurisdiction, which is entirely inappropriate and has been done far too often by Liberal governments in the country.
I have some prepared remarks that I do want to read into the record about a bill that has been reinstated by the government, Bill C-2, which was put forward this morning in the House.
Bill C-2 is very troubling legislation. Again, as someone who is a passionate believer in personal liberty, free speech, openness and free markets, I think Bill C-2 betrays the very essence of what small “l” John Stewart Liberals of the federal Liberal Party were about at one time.
Bill C-2 would make it illegal for new immigrants to watch programming from the Middle East, Latin America or southeast Asia, simply because the station would not be distributed by a Canadian company. We have to wonder if the government even understands what the word “free” means.
For my generation, one of the basic rights is the right to channel surf, to watch what we want to watch, to have choice and to do it all as long as we are willing to pay and do it according to the law.
When this Prime Minister was my age, shortwave radio was the window to different cultures in far off lands. Freedom was the ability to tune into Radio Moscow or the BBC World Service and to get news that was unavailable elsewhere. It was also the grim feeling one got realizing that people in places such as Cuba, North Korea and the former Soviet Union were risking their lives by listening to the Voice of America or Radio Free Berlin.
In the 1960s freedom was based on radio signals. Over the past 40 years we have added pictures and gone digital. Today satellite television in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq is the primary symbol of liberty and openness and the images that they represent allow viewers to feel as though they are as free as a bird in the sky.
That the Prime Minister's very first bill in the House would target this technology with Bill C-2 tells me he fundamentally does not understand what freedom is about. Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that freedom is really only distributed by the government, rather than sanctioned and prevented by the government. It is sad that the Prime Minister commonly mentions in his speeches people who he believes in profoundly in terms of ideological reasoning, people such as Pierre Trudeau, and people intellectually he believes are believers in freedom. He mentions Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, who is a hero of mine, as passionate believers in free speech.
Yet his very first bill in the House of Commons, Bill C-2, would prevent freedom of speech and prevent ethnic and minority communities from having free access to people to speak their own language because cable companies do not happen to provide that kind of programming.
In fact, so out of step is the Prime Minister's first new bill with the priorities of ordinary Canadians that, when this issue was raised in the 2002 Windsor West byelection, the NDP won the seat that had been held by the Liberals for 39 years. It was a profoundly important issue in that election campaign.
It gets worse. Not only is the Prime Minister's first new bill out of step with the priorities of Canadians and potentially oppressive to minorities, it is actually useless in achieving the goals he has in mind. Anyone who has been paying attention to this issue knows that there is a high likelihood that Bill C-2 will become the object of a lengthy court battle.
By the time the courts settle the question, technology will have advanced to the point that Canadians will be watching TV via the Internet and laws such as Bill C-2 will simply be unenforceable.
One has to wonder why Bill C-2 would be the government's first priority. After all, on November 14, 2003, in accepting the Liberal leadership, he told Canadians, “We need a new approach to politics, to what we do and how we do it”.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was not talking about the substance of the bill. I was talking about the very principle of reinstating it within the context of the fact that the current Prime Minister came to office saying that he had a bold, brand new agenda. As I mentioned in my first comments, his bold, brand new agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the bills that are being brought back into play here.
I would think the former House leader, one of the most ardent defenders of the former prime minister and one of the most ardent opponents of the current Prime Minister, would certainly agree with the things I have to say because I know deep down in his heart, perhaps not that deep down, if we just scratch the surface, he is in wholehearted agreement with my assessment of the current Prime Minister and his non-agenda for Canada.
I have spent a tremendous amount of time in my riding, reading correspondence and talking to constituents. There is very little either in the throne speech or in the reinstatement motion by the Prime Minister that has in my constituency even the least bit interested or re-inspired about Canadian politics or about the government.
Again, this Prime Minister told Canadians that he had a brand new, bold vision. What is the very first thing he does? He invokes closure. He puts in time allocation. He reinstates old legislation from the ancien régime. He wants to cut off debate. He does not have any brand new ideas to put forward on the table.
We have an Auditor General's report that will come down tomorrow. It will talk about how the Prime Minister and the government are not dealing with the democratic deficit, that they are not dealing with cleaning up the scandals of the past, that they are not moving the ball forward and making the country a better place in the grand vision that he had for this country.
With the very idea of replacing one prime minister with the new Prime Minister should come a sense of renewal. Instead what do we see the government putting forward? We have Bill C-35, an act to amend the National Defence Act (remuneration of military judges). We have Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I can assure the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell that was not on the platform on which he was elected, and it certainly was not part of the agenda on which new Prime Minister ran. He said to elect him as prime minister. He said that the Liberals would have to go to the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, that they would bring Bono and Cirque du Soleil there and that they would have a grand old time. They would pack half of Air Canada Centre and do all that great stuff. If he had said if they elected him, the very first thing he would do was bring back all the old, bad legislation that was from the old guy the Liberals had just got rid of, I am quite certain he would not have had nearly the ovation he did at the convention. Canadians would be scratching their heads and asking what happened to that new deal for cities. What happened to addressing the democratic deficit, bringing back the old ideas from the old regime, the very ideas that he criticized and could not be a part of at all? How is that addressing the democratic deficit, bringing forward bold new ideas and a new vision for cities and a new agenda for municipalities? That is not what this is about.
When somebody runs for office, whether as a member of Parliament, or a cabinet minister in the back rooms or to become party leader, one has to have a bold, brand new agenda, something like building a bigger economic pie. Particularly, if one runs for party leader of the incumbent governing party, one has to have new ideas that have to be addressed and that need to be put forward in the country, ideas for which there is an urgent need.
Putting forward, as one's very first action in the House, Motion No. 2 to reinstate all the legislation from the ancien régime is hardly a new beginning and a fresh start for Canadians. It is not what people had in mind. It is not what people expected from the Prime Minister.
I stood on the floor of the Air Canada Centre and I heard the current Prime Minister's speech. It was one of the longest nights of my life. He did not mention bringing anything back. He said that the first thing he would do was bring back legislation to give Canada the most liberal marijuana laws on the planet, making it far more liberal than even the most liberal marijuana laws that they have in Amsterdam. If they brought him back, he would reinstate and put in place the legislation that pumps billions of dollars in corporate welfare back into Bombardier and VIA Rail. If they brought him back, he would bring forward all the legislation, all the stuff for which he said the former prime minister was drifting and not doing anything about, not going anywhere and was not addressing the big concerns of this country. He said if he was brought back and put in power, he would promise Bono, U2 and Cirque du Soleil. If he was put in as Prime Minister of Canada, there would be a bold new agenda.
Again, persistently we have failed to see that. It was the government members and the member for Yukon, who spoke just prior to myself, who mentioned the throne speech. He said that this was a precursor for the government really addressing the throne speech.
The throne speech was full of platitudes and empty rhetoric. The new deal for cities is an empty deal. There is virtually nothing there at all. It further complicates, as I said, the tax code, it makes the GST less efficient and it does not give a steady stream of financing to municipalities.
One broad area that is of particular concern to my constituents and to the constituents of British Columbians is the area of crime. The throne speech had precisely 4,662 words in it. Not one of those words mentioned crime or criminal justice reform. The whole subject matter was deleted. For that matter, neither were the fisheries, the fishing industry, agriculture or anything to do with agriculture mentioned.
The province of British Columbia has serious problems with regard to crime. It has street racing, grow ops of marijuana, parole reform and the idea of conditional sentencing. It is the idea of not having consecutive sentences for violent criminals.
We have one sad story of Darcy Bertrand, a guy who on Thanksgiving Day, I believe in 1995, attended a church service where he pulled out a knife and murdered his mother-in-law, father-in-law and his wife right in front of his kids. He was convicted of the murders a year later. He pled guilty to three counts of second degree murder and was convicted a year later on all three of those counts. After five years in a medium security prison, he was transferred to a minimum security facility that does not even have a fence. This facility is 20 minutes away from the surviving family members.
This raises all kinds of questions when these kinds of concerns are there. There is no criminal justice legislation at all in Motion No. 2. The previous government did not put forward any legislation of that kind. None of those three bills deal with anything serious.
The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who is now quickly becoming an apologist for the current Prime Minister, the very Prime Minister who he opposed becoming Prime Minister, says that there are three bills dealing with justice reform in Motion No. 2. None of them deal with the substantive concrete issues that are of concern to Canadians.
How is it that members of this Liberal government are so dramatically out of touch that, for example, in the very case of Darcy Bertrand, a guy who walks up in broad daylight and murders his wife, his mother-in-law and his father-in-law in front of his kids, and after being found guilty of three counts of murder, he goes to a medium security prison? If that guy does not deserve to be in a maximum security prison, I wonder who does. He was put in a medium security facility and after five years he was sent to a minimum security facility with no fence at all and 20 minutes away from surviving family members. It is a facility from which people have walked away freely in the past.
Putting forward Motion No. 2 will not address the concerns of Canadians. Not putting forward any legislation to address criminal justice reform or even mentioning criminal justice reform in the throne speech does not address the real issues and concerns of Canadians and does not address the priorities that people in my community and in my electoral district have. The people in British Columbia want criminal justice reform issues addressed. They do not want these sorts of games.
When someone steps forward and says that he is going to run for public office, that he will be the new prime minister of Canada because he has a bold, new agenda, he must deliver. He has to actually come forward with some brand new ideas, not some retread old ideas from the very prime minister that people said had to be done away with because he had no new ideas. This is the ultimate contradiction.
The current Prime Minister has failed again. He has failed to give a new vision. He has failed to give new ideas. He has failed the democratic deficit challenge. He has failed to give a new agenda for cities. He is giving the same old agenda that will not work and will not give Canadians the fresh start they need.
Mr. Speaker, the motion seeks to reinstate bills that died on the Order Paper when the previous session of Parliament ended.
As all of us know, the goal of the motion is a simple one: to spare members the burden of having to repeat work on bills that got as far as the committee stage in the last session.
This is especially commendable given the numerous pressures MPs are under and the limited resources available to us.
What features are contained in the motion? Simply put, under the motion a minister would be able to request during 30 sitting days after the motion's adoption the reinstatement of a bill that had reached at least the committee stage when the last session ended. Should the Speaker be satisfied that the bill is the same as in the previous session, the bill would be reinstated at the same stage as before.
Thus during this session we can skip all the stages of debate that have been completed so far. The work of the committees that are considering the bills would consequently be preserved. In short, this is a very appealing option.
Parliament relies heavily upon precedents which means we are constantly looking over our shoulder to ensure new measures are consistent with past practices. Is this motion in keeping with the longstanding practices of the House? It is in fact a practice we have had for over three decades.
On a number of occasions reinstatement motions have been adopted by consent and without debate. It is clear that today's motion is well within the bounds of accepted parliamentary practice. This is supported by Marleau and Montpetit's authoritative guide to parliamentary procedure which discusses this issue in some detail. While they recognize that as a general principle prorogation of a session means that all bills that have not yet received royal assent die on the Order Paper and must be reintroduced in the new session, they also recognize that “bills have been reinstated by motion at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session; committee work has similarly been revived”.
One point that needs clarification is that this motion allows the government the flexibility to reintroduce certain bills. It does not require the government to reintroduce all bills that were on the Order Paper at a certain stage when Parliament prorogued. Let me give an example of some bills which the government would have the flexibility to reinstate if it so chose.
One is Bill C-7 on the administration and accountability of Indian bands. The new government has indicated it would like to revisit that whole question of governance but nonetheless, this motion would give the government the flexibility to reintroduce that bill should it so choose.
Another one is Bill C-10B on cruelty to animals which has received a lot of attention in my riding. Bill C-13, assisted human reproduction, as an example had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate and a great deal of the work that had been done here in the House of Commons would have to be redone. Bill C-17 on public safety was another bill that had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate.
Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, is another bill that the government if this motion passes will be able to reintroduce if it so chooses. Bill C-19, first nations fiscal management, was at report stage. Bill C-20, protection of children, was at report stage. Bill C-22, the Divorce Act, was in committee. Bill C-23, registration of information relating to sex offenders, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-26, the Railway Safety Act, was in committee. Bill C-27 on airport authorities was at second reading when the House prorogued.
Bill C-32, Criminal Code amendments, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-33, international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, was at report stage when we prorogued. Bill C-34, ethics, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate where it had been amended.
These are bills that have gone through a lengthy debate and process within the House of Commons and some already within the Senate.
Bill C-35, remuneration of military judges, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-36, Archives of Canada, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-38, the marijuana bill, was at report stage and second reading. Bill C-40, Corrections and Conditional Release Act, was at first reading when the House prorogued. Bill C-43, the fisheries act, was at first reading when the House prorogued.
Bill C-46, the capital markets fraud bill, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. This is a bill that will help the government deal with the kind of corporate fraud that we have seen with Enron and many other examples. We want to make sure that our government has the ability to deal with these types of issues so that investors are protected from the fraudulent activities of the management of various companies and their directors.
Bill C-49, the electoral boundaries act had passed third reading and was in the Senate.
Bill C-51, the Canada Elections Act, and Bill C-52, the Radiocommunication Act, were at second reading when the House prorogued. Bill C-53, the riding name changes, had passed third reading and was sent to the Senate. Bill C-54, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act was in committee as was Bill C-56, the Food and Drugs Act, when the House prorogued. Bill C-57, the westbank first nation self-government act was also in committee.
There was a lot of work involved in getting these bills to this stage. The government is not necessarily committing to reintroducing all these bills, but we want the flexibility to reintroduce those bills which we support and not have to reinvent the wheel.
The amendment put forward by the member for Yorkton--Melville indicates that there are a number of bills that, given the government's flexibility, he would not like to have reinstated. That includes Bill C-7, the bill dealing with the administration and accountability of Indian bands. Our government may want to revisit that bill.
The member for Yorkton--Melville has said that Bill C-13, the assisted human reproduction bill, should be left alone as well. He names a number of other bills such as Bill C-19, Bill C-20, Bill C-22, Bill C-26, Bill C-34, Bill C-35, Bill C-36, Bill C-38.
I should point out that a number of these bills, Bill C-13 for example, passed third reading and was in the Senate.The member for Yorkton--Melville wants us to start all over with that bill.
He said that Bill C-34, the ethics legislation, should not be reinstated, yet that bill had passed third reading and was sent to the Senate where it had been amended. We all know about that bill.
He said that we should start all over again with regard to Bill C-35, remuneration for military judges legislation. That bill had passed third reading and was in the Senate,.
I do not know what is so contentious with regard to Bill C-36, the archives of Canada legislation, but the member for Yorkton--Melville wants us to start all over again with that bill. Bill C-38, the marijuana bill, was at report stage.
A lot of work has already been done in this chamber and in the other place on bills that, without the passage of this motion, would have to be started all over again. There is a long list of precedents for reinstating government bills and reviving committee work.
For example, in 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1986, the members of this House gave their unanimous consent to a motion to reinstate bills from a previous session.
In 1977 and 1982 members amended the Standing Orders to allow Parliament to carry over legislation to the next session. All of which testifies to the longstanding practice of the House of allowing the reinstatement of bills at the same stage as was the case in the previous session, which is precisely what the motion calls for.
It is interesting to note, and I have some personal interaction with this particular idea, that the procedure proposed in the motion is similar, in fact it is identical, to that which exists in the Standing Orders for private members' bills which the House adopted in 1998.
I have a private member's bill, Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees, that unanimously passed all stages in the House, was in the Senate, had passed first reading in the Senate and had been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance. Then we prorogued. Without this particular feature, I would have had to start all over again in the House of Commons after two to three years of work and a bill that had passed unanimously at all stages in the House of Commons.
With this particular Standing Order, the bill is already on the floor of the Senate. We did not have to reinvent the wheel here in the House of Commons. I am hopeful that it will be passed to the Standing Committee on National Finance shortly and then onwards from there.
We say that those rules are good for private member's bills, in fact they have the support of the House because they are now part of the Standing Orders. We say, on the one hand for private members' business, it is all right to reinstate these bills, but for the government's business it is not, this is a whole new thing.
The member opposite said that if we have a new government then why do we not have new ideas. I can assure the member that if he read the throne speech, and if he looked at the new democratic deficit paper, this is just the start. He will see that the government will be operated very differently.
However, having said that, there is no problem in my judgment to reintroduce those bills that make sense. There has been a lot of work done already. With this motion, the government would have the flexibility to deal with these bills that have been passed, where there is consent of the House, and send them to the Senate.
It is interesting to note that in 1977, a private member's bill was reinstated after Parliament was dissolved.
All of which inevitably leads us to the conclusion, as I said earlier, that if it is reasonable to reinstate private members' bills at the same stage, surely we have the common sense in this chamber to say that it is reasonable to follow the same procedure with respect to government bills.
What would be different about government bills? If we have adopted the procedure in the House for private members' business, why would we want different rules for government business, unless we are out to score political points or be partisan in our debate?
I should point out that this practice of reinstating bills is also practised in other mature democracies that have ruled in favour of bringing legislation forward from one session to another.
I think of the parliament in the United Kingdom from which many of our own parliamentary practices originally came. It has reinstatement motions to allow government bills to carry over from one session to the next.
The official opposition has told the media that it would oppose the motion for the sole purpose of delaying bills from the last session. This is patently unfair and contrary to House practices. The attitude shows it has little regard for the work of the House and for Canadian taxpayers. Opposition members will ask members of the House, at great cost to the public treasury, to come back and re-debate bills that have already passed this chamber and are in the Senate in many cases.
The bills that will be reinstated would include the legislation to accelerate the coming into force of the new electoral boundaries which was passed by the House of Commons and sent to the Senate.
We talk about dealing with western alienation. This particular legislation would allow more seats for British Columbia and Alberta. This is the way to proceed. Why would we want to delay that bill? Why would we want to have the debate all over again on something that is patently obvious.
We take the census and figure it all out, and draw the boundaries. This is not rocket science. This is done by Elections Canada. It redefines the boundaries. It recognizes that Canada is a growing country, that different areas are growing more quickly than others, and it redefines the boundaries.
If we have that bill when the next election is called, Alberta and British Columbia will have a bigger voice. I think Ontario would receive more seats as well. I am sure that there could be an amendment that could be put forward to deal with Nova Scotia perhaps.
There is the legislation to create an independent ethics commissioner and a Senate ethics officer, something that the members opposite have argued for vociferously for months, perhaps years. This bill could be reinstated very simply by agreeing and adopting this motion. We could have an independent ethics commissioner for the House and a Senate ethics officer.
The motion should have the support of the House. It is the practice in most mature democratic countries.
In conclusion, we need to be clear that adoption of the motion does not mean that all the bills that were on the Order Paper when we prorogued would automatically come back. It means that the government would have the flexibility to pick those bills that, in its wisdom and judgment, it sees fit to bring back. That would allow us not to have to reinvent the wheel and re-debate those bills that have the support of the chamber. Many of them also have the support of the Senate, at least at first reading stage.
The motion before us today does not represent a break with our parliamentary traditions. In fact, it is very much a part of our parliamentary traditions and it is entirely consistent with the practice of the House dating back to 1970.
Moreover, the measures described in the motion would greatly contribute to freeing up the members so that they can focus on the important task of developing new initiatives for promoting the well-being of Canadians.
With this in mind, I certainly intend to support this motion. I would urge other members to support it so we can get on with the business of the House, the important business and legislation that can be brought forward and reinstated and not have to be re-debated.