Mr. Speaker, I move that the 17th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Friday, October 20, be concurred in.
In essence, the report seeks to make permanent the Standing Orders of this House that were in effect on October 5, 2006, which include a series of provisional Standing Orders that were adopted in the last Parliament.
Members will note that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is permanently mandated with the review of Standing Orders, procedure and practice in the House of Commons and in its committees.
The Standing Orders are defined by Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice as:
|| The permanent written rules under which the House regulates its proceedings are known as the Standing Orders.
I can certainly understand how most Canadians may find this topic boring and even foreign. I know you do not, Mr. Speaker, as you are a student of these Standing Orders. However, for a parliamentary system it is of the utmost importance.
According to John George Bourinot, Clerk of the House of Commons from 1890 to 1902, the rules that regulate our proceedings are essential for reasons that include the protection of the minority, the restraint of improvidence and tyranny of the majority.
These rules must allow the opposition in the House of Commons to hold the government to account and to answer for its actions. However, at the same time, these rules must not prevent the government from being able to govern. It is this balance that parliamentary procedure intends to ensure.
In addition to these permanent written rules, the House of Commons can adopt rules for a limited period of time. They are known as provisional Standing Orders. Provisional Standing Orders are adopted for a specific amount of time and are adopted on an experimental basis. They can be dropped, amended or made permanent if the House so wishes.
It is for that purpose that I move my motion today. I want the House to express itself on whether or not the provisional Standing Orders adopted in the last Parliament should be made permanent.
On February 18, 2005, the House adopted by unanimous consent a series of provisional Standing Orders that would expire 60 days into the 39th Parliament, which is our current Parliament. Before the 60 days, the House agreed to extend these provisional Standing Orders until November 21, 2006.
These provisional Standing Orders that are set to expire in a few weeks affect approximately 11 permanent Standing Orders. For example, under the provisional Standing Orders, all opposition motions on supply days are now votable. All speeches, including speeches by the and the Leader of the Opposition are now subject to a question and comment period. All parties can now be represented on the liaison committee. Committee reports have a greater chance of being voted on in this House. The government benefits greatly by the fact that there is now a 48 hour period of notice required for all opposition day motions. This replaces the previous 24 hour notice.
I would like to take a few minutes to review in greater detail some of the rule changes and, in my view, the positive effect these provisional Standing Orders have had on how we conduct business in this place.
First, I would like to quote the Hon. George Drew, leader of the opposition on June 4, 1956. In an edition of Hansard he said, “The word 'Commons' means the people. This is the House of the people”.
Drew's statement is as accurate now as it was then.
One of the primary functions of this chamber is to allow people to debate. Opinions must be allowed to be expressed, questions must be permitted to be asked and decisions must be made.
One of the rules affected by these provisional Standing Orders is that now all speeches in the House are subject to a question and comment period.
Members will note that even speeches by the and the Leader of the Opposition are now subject to a question and comment period. In the past, because their speeches were of unlimited time, members were not permitted to ask questions of either the or the Leader of the Opposition after they gave a speech.
If the provisional Standing Orders are not made permanent, members will give up their right to ask the and/or the questions after speeches in the House of Commons.
Why would anyone not agree to allow members of this chamber to ask questions of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. Must we shield the Prime Minister from taking questions from the members in the House of Commons? I think most would agree that all speeches should be subject to questioning. After all, is that not the true nature of debate?
Another rule that I believe was positively affected by the provisional Standing Orders is that all opposition motions debated on allotted days are now votable. On the issue of allotted days, I would like to quote Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 722 where it states:
|| The setting aside of a specified number of sitting days on which the opposition chooses the subject of debate derives from the tradition which holds that Parliament does not grant Supply until the opposition has had an opportunity to demonstrate why it should be refused.
On page 724 it goes on to say:
|| Members in opposition to the government may propose motions for debate on any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as well as on committee reports concerning Estimates.
Opposition parties put a lot of work into preparing their motions for debate on allotted days. In fact, these days are another tool that allows opposition parties as a whole to hold the government to account. Supply days allow the topic of discussion to be decided on by a party that is not the government.
However, it is thanks to the provisional Standing Orders that now all opposition motions on allotted days come to a vote. Reverting to the old Standing Orders would prevent opposition parties from having some of their motions come to a vote in the House of Commons.
I would like to turn now to the issue of committee reports. Most members of the House sit on standing committees and this is where a lot of the heavy lifting happens in the business of the House of Commons. Committees make their views, opinions and recommendations known to the House by way of reports. In fact, standing committees are permanently mandated with the power to report their findings to the House. It is essential to their role as microcosms and extensions of the House that they be allowed to do this.
I think all members would agree that standing committees work hard in preparing their reports on a variety of issues for presentation to the House. In the past, when a member would ask the House to concur in a given report, the government of the day would move a dilatory motion or debate on the report until an intervening item, such as question period or private members' business, would have the debate in the concurrence motion interrupted. It would then be up to the government to decide if debate would resume or not on the motion to concur in the committee report. The provisional Standing Orders adopted in the last Parliament increased the chances that committee reports will be voted on without any intervening items shelving them, as these debates are limited to three hours.
Therefore, the value of a committee's work is increased as it has the ability to continue meaningfully in the proceedings of the House. Its work is not ignored and committee members can bring important items to the attention of the entire House of Commons for debate and for a vote.
These small but important changes adopted on a provisional basis were recommended by the Conservatives in the last Parliament. The member, who is currently the chief government whip, and his party, then in opposition, championed these small changes to our rules. It was the Conservatives along with the Bloc and the NDP that proposed these provisional Standing Orders to the then governing Liberals.
The Conservatives believed that these rules would add to the fairness and the balance of our proceedings. They believed that because all opposition days would be votable and the committee reports would not so easily be ignored, individual member's work would be valued. We agreed with the then Conservative opposition when we were in government. In fact, on February 18, 2005, the government of the day asked the House to concur in the provisional Standing Orders as proposed by the Conservatives. By unanimous consent, they were adopted on a provisional basis.
It is true that on September 20, 2006 the House agreed to have the provisional Standing Orders remain in effect until November 21, 2006. Of course, after November 21, the old Standing Orders would come back into effect.
The Standing Orders, that would not include the provisional Standing Orders proposed by the Conservatives when they were in opposition, would in effect be over with unless something was done in the intervening time. That something is what my motion accomplishes today.
The House will express itself on whether or not the provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent, the same ones championed by the Conservatives. Some will argue that we should not adopt these provisional rules now as Standing Orders because they may need to be reviewed or amended.
It is true that other Standing Orders may need to be reviewed, however nothing prevents the House from adopting the rules that have been in effect since February of 2005. Did we say back then that the current provisional rules could not be adopted because other Standing Orders may need to be reviewed? Of course not.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice reminds us that there have been countless reviews of Standing Orders. In fact, the first amendments to our written rules occurred only four months after the adoption of the very first Standing Orders after Confederation. I am sure our practice, procedure and privileges will always be subject to review and scrutiny, as well they should.
In conclusion, it is not my intention to hold up the business of the House with my motion today, however I do believe the House should permanently adopt the provisional rules as proposed by the Conservatives when they were in opposition, the same rules we have been following since February 2005, and that they be put into effect unanimously.
Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my remarks today I would like to indicate to the Chair that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
This has been debated in the procedure and House affairs committee at some length over the past few weeks. I must start out by saying, as I did in my remarks when the chief whip of the official opposition brought forward this motion, that I am actually quite disappointed, disturbed, and a little annoyed by the tactics employed by the official opposition in this regard.
My colleague just referred to the process in his intervention and question to the official opposition whip. As he laid out, and as I will reiterate, it is not that we are opposed to any or perhaps all of these provisional Standing Orders. The chief opposition whip laid out in some detail the process that led to part of the Standing Orders that the House operates under and I concur with the detail she provided.
These provisional Standing Orders came about through negotiations in the last minority Parliament, the 38th Parliament, in which the Liberal Party was government and the Conservative Party filled the role of the official opposition. They came about through negotiations initially between the opposition parties and subsequently with the government. They were adopted unanimously on February 18, 2005, as the opposition whip indicated.
They had an expiry date because they were provisional and the tradition of the House is that when we adopt things like this we try them out for a while, take them for a test drive as it were. She is quite right that written into the use of these provisional Standing Orders was an expiry date of 60 days into the following Parliament, which is the current 39th Parliament. They were due to expire somewhere around October 10, 2006, which was a week or so ago.
This is what I find so disturbing and annoying. As I said at committee, the House must operate on a basis of mutual respect and trust. We must have that especially between the four House leaders of the four parties and the four whips, I would argue. I have had the very distinct privilege and pleasure to serve four times as a whip and once as a House leader, so I think I speak with some authority and experience in the role of a caucus officer.
I hold very strongly to the tenet that one's word is one's bond. That is the way I was raised in northeastern British Columbia, Fort St. John in my riding. That is how I was raised on the farm. That is what my parents taught me. I have tried to bring that to the House of Commons in everything that I do. One's word is one's bond. We simply must as House leaders, whips and I would argue deputies as well, have the responsibility on behalf of Canadians to keep this place functioning. We must have that mutual respect and trust between all House officers of the four respective parties.
What unfortunately has happened in this particular process is that this trust has been broken, hopefully not irretrievably but it has been broken. Allow me to explain.
When it was getting closer to the expiry date of these provisional Standing Orders, the opposition brought it to our attention at the weekly House leaders and whips meeting. There is a weekly meeting, as you would know, Mr. Speaker, and I see you are nodding, as you served as the House leader for quite some time for the New Democratic Party.
We all know that you are very familiar with the process where the four House leaders, four whips and their senior staff meet once a week to decide on the agenda and how to conduct business in the chamber. We meet behind closed doors because we have to take the partisanship out of it and we have to work as cooperatively as possible in the best interests of all Canadians.
So what happened? On the meeting that was held on September 19 we talked about this. I think it was the government House leader who brought it to the attention of all parties at that meeting, because it had been raised earlier by the opposition.
On September 19 we came to an agreement. How do we know and how is it proven that we came to an agreement? Because the very next day, with unanimous consent and support, the government House leader brought forward a motion in this place to extend those provisional Standing Orders to November 21 to give us time to work through it.
The agreement was that the senior staff of the House leaders would get together. We anticipated that during the Thanksgiving week break from parliamentary duties they would get together and discuss how we could move this forward, and any possible amendments, because there was some consideration for amendments that we have raised.
The Clerk of the House of Commons herself had some suggestions for wording, not to change the intent, and I want to be very clear about this. It was not to change the intent of the provisional Standing Orders, but to perhaps make them work more effectively for all parliamentarians and for the institution itself.
We wanted to consult with the Clerk. We wanted to have our senior staff meet and work through these provisional Standing Orders, certainly well before the extension of the deadline to November 21, and come back to the House with these provisional Standing Orders, amended in a way that we all agree to, just as we did on February 18, 2005, and by unanimous support, with no debate, to just pass these and make the necessary changes.
Why I am so upset, as I have said, is because this House, to be functional and to operate in an effective manner, must be based on mutual respect despite our political differences and our partisan differences from time to time. Mr. Speaker, you know it, I know it, and anyone who has worked here knows it. The reality is that now this trust has been broken, because we had an agreement, and the official opposition, I would submit, for partisan reasons broke its word. That is the reality. The chief opposition whip knows it. There is no logical reason.
My colleague asked her the question. When the deadline has been extended through unanimous support, unanimous agreement, why is there this rush all of a sudden? She knows, as I know, that this is all about payback because procedurally we used to use a few processes in the House to try to push our agenda forward.
I have served almost my entire career in opposition. I know that procedurally, when one is in opposition, one uses any Standing Orders and processes that one can to try to promote one's agenda and stymie the government. We understand that, but not at the price of breaking one's word. That is the point. The point is not the provisional Standing Orders themselves although, as I have laid out, there are some minor changes that we would like to see. What the reality is, and the more important issue, is the breaking of one's word.
I submit that at the next House leaders' meeting, which is this afternoon--it is held every Tuesday afternoon--what is the point in trying to reach agreement on how the agenda is going to move forward if the next day or the next week we find those agreements broken? The House cannot operate this way.
I know, Mr. Speaker, because I have the utmost respect for you and the Chair in all the roles that you have played. You are the dean of the House. You have been here longer than any other sitting member of Parliament. I know that you know this better than I, this need for this trust and respect so that when people commit to something, they are committed to it. That is the issue that has to be dealt with today.
I understand that I have about one minute left. Time goes so fast when one gets emotional about these types of issues.
Mr. Speaker, let me say that in all of my 13 years in this House I have always tried to conduct myself that way. I have learned from some of the veterans, people like you, and people like past Liberal House leader Don Boudria, who conducted themselves in that manner, and that is the way I have tried to conduct myself.
At the end of my remarks, I would like to amend the motion today.
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
||the Seventeenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on October 20, 2006, be not now concurred in, but that it be recommitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with instruction that it amend the same so as to recommend that Standing Order 106(4) be amended by replacing the words “five days” with the words “ten days”.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that it is easy to solve the problem before us, and I do not understand the government's strategy at all. The idea is to make a major change to our Standing Orders official. This change has been tried over the past year or more.
Before we get to the bottom of things, hon. members need to understand that the sole purpose of the amendment that was just introduced is to delay acceptance of the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That is its sole purpose: to make sure these amendments to the Standing Orders are not accepted within the timeframe allotted by the House, thereby giving the government the wiggle room it needs to postpone consideration of this issue by the House of Commons indefinitely.
For the benefit of those who are watching, all the amendments before us here were introduced by the Conservative Party, by Conservative members—with rallying speeches and talk of consensuses and discussions among the parties—when the Conservatives formed the official opposition. I would not want the people who are watching to think that the Liberal opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP are trying to pull a fast one on the government. One gets that impression, listening to the government whip, but it is absolutely not true.
I have here a memo dated September 7, 2004, in which the then opposition leader, now the , asked the leaders of the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party to proceed immediately with the amendments to the Standing Orders that have been introduced. Everyone who is watching needs to understand that all the amendments before us today originated in the office of the Conservative leader a year and a half ago, when he was the leader of the official opposition.
We are not trying to turn everything upside down or put the government in a difficult position. We are trying to make permanent something that all the parties had agreed to try temporarily, at the suggestion of the then leader of the official opposition, who is now the . We want to implement something that was introduced by the Prime Minister.
Let us stop this hypocritical chatter suggesting that we are trying to quibble, to engineer a conflict. This is something that was done with the consent of everyone and that, I repeat, originated from the office of the current when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Moreover, he worked on this with the same advisors he has now. I have the advantage of being an old parliamentary leader; I have been here for a while and I have seen them at work. These same advisors are still around today. They are the ones who drafted the changes to the Standing Orders, and pleaded for the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to support them. They are also the ones who pleaded for the Liberal government at the time to approve these regulatory changes.
Today, we are hearing that it is terrible, outrageous, that the spirit of cooperation is gone and that our workings had always been perfectly harmonious. I was about to use bad language. There is a limit to spewing nonsense. These provisional Standing Orders make the life of the official opposition easier. Indeed, this change to the Standing Orders allows the official opposition to better play its role. Take for example this debate we are having today at the instigation of this Parliament's official opposition; it could not have been held had the rules not been changed.
I would like the people watching us to suggest what they would call a group of politicians who say one thing while in opposition and the opposite once in government. That is what we have here.
The very people who proposed these changes to the Standing Orders and convinced everyone to approve them are now reticent to say too loudly, for fear of ridicule, that they oppose the Standing Orders. Still, they keep looking for ways to prevent these Standing Orders from being permanently, officially adopted.
Do they think we cannot see right through them? I was not born yesterday. I am most senior parliamentary leader in this House. It is clear to me what they want to do: they want to buy time so that these provisional orders will fade away come mid-November. Then we would no longer be able to debate them here in this House or to consider this report, because it is in the new Standing Orders. After mid-November, we will no longer be able to discuss this issue. Under the old Standing Orders, only the government can put the debate back on the agenda, if and when it chooses to do so.
I doubt the government has any intention of bringing back the debate. It no longer wants to hear about changes to the Standing Orders even though it proposed them when it was the official opposition. This behaviour is unacceptable. There will be collaboration in this House once we start talking to one another.
I have been a parliamentary leader for 13 years. Never have I had such little discussion with my counterpart opposite and my colleagues in opposition about parliamentary strategy. These people talk about dialogue. They do not want anyone to talk about the strategy they themselves came up with when they were in opposition. I would like to tell the Liberal opposition, which was in power at the time, that it could have put up more of a fight against the application of this Standing Order. The government House leader at the time, Tony Valeri, was aware that we could force their hand, in a way. So he invited us to discuss a number of things, and we discussed them. This Standing Order was the result of that discussion.
This is a big improvement that, among other things, makes it possible for our friends in the NDP to have an additional opposition day and enables Parliament to vote on all opposition days. All parliamentarians, all citizens with elected representatives in the House of Commons, want motions introduced in the House to be voted on, passed, or taken into consideration by all members of the House. That is a big improvement for democracy.
In return, members of the opposition agreed to make known in advance the subjects that would be debated here in the House of Commons. Why would we not accept such a change? They want to muzzle the NDP and remove one of their two opposition days; they want to remove the right of the official opposition or the Bloc Québécois to bring motions to a vote. That won’t hold water. That is the reason why when we are in opposition, we are better parliamentarians.
Indeed, these amendments, which are all excellent and essential to the good operation of Parliament, were introduced by a Conservative government in opposition.
It appears that we will be obliged to ask them to return to the opposition to regain those qualities that they had only a few months ago. That is the reality.
I would simply like to say that my colleague, the whip, makes me blush with shame, by proposing a motion such as this one, five days instead of ten.
Do you know what we told them? We will tell you: yes, there are some details that we are ready to discuss. There are some small points that we could examine if you like, now that you want to talk. There are some little things that we can do. We are prepared to examine the amendment to five days from ten.
Let us adopt the new Standing Orders as a whole, because they are a great deal broader than this little motion, than this small change that is proposed.
This is a pretext. It smells like a pretext. Let us adopt the new Standing Orders. Everybody likes them, except the Conservatives who produced them. Nevertheless, they will have to live with them. Sorry but when you are virtuous in opposition, you can also be virtuous when you are in government. I apologize to the Conservatives. They will have to live with their Standing Orders, and we will make them swallow it because we are all agreed that this is a good standing order; it is a one from which no one gains any special advantage.
We believed that the Leader of the Opposition at that time, who is now the , had produced a good text, which we supported for that reason, and which the Liberals and the NDP agreed was a good text, and because Canadians are better served by a good text. When we have one, we adopt it; and we are going to adopt it. That is what we want to do.
If there are changes to be made, from five days to ten, or commas, or minutes to move, we will be as open as the Liberal government was at the time to accept this text. We will have the necessary openness and we will ensure that the citizens are better served than ever. We will not allow the government to prevent us from adopting what we consider to be a good text. We will vote against the motion, against the amendment that says this will be sent to committee. The government wants to buy some time. We will not allow it to buy time at our expense—and especially not at the expense of the Standing Orders. And I asked citizens, throwing it back in their face: what do you think of a group of parliamentarians who behave one way when they are in opposition and another way when they are in power?
It was funny at the time to the Leader of the Opposition, the now , and his group of advisors, and the whip who was leader, and the leader who was whip. It was the same clique. They thought it was funny to impose this on the Liberal minority government. They found it funny and they liked it. They were pleased and happy that the Bloc and the NDP were in favour of it.
Today, we are the ones who find it funny to throw back in their faces the Standing Orders they came up with at the time and on which we collaborated. I am sorry, but this allowed the opposition to do its work better and I hope it does not bother the government to think that if we did our work better as the opposition, this might prevent it from making the gaffes that would send it straight to the opposition benches at the next election. The Conservatives should consider themselves lucky: things are working, the House is doing well, the Standing Orders are a good text and there is unanimity among the other parties to keep what they came up with in the first place.
I call this great unanimity. They should vote with us instead of using stalling tactics to put off this motion long enough so we can no longer pass it or have the chance to force them to accept it.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for .
I want to look at the amendment to the Standing Orders and the provisional Standing Orders that were referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. A Liberal motion proposes that the Standing Orders and the provisional Standing Orders be made permanent.
There were discussions in committee. The Conservative Party made some suggestions. The Clerk even suggested that some wording could be changed because of technical problems and things of that kind. Then there was the Standing Order concerning the five-day rather than ten-day time frame for convening committee meetings. But it was very clear. As a committee member, I would have agreed to extend the time frame to ten days. I can say publicly that I was prepared to make this compromise. However, we would have had to be able to meet again in committee in a week in order to proceed.
The committee is its own master. It voted for this to be submitted to the House of Commons. The various parties clearly do not agree with the government. I want to join the leader of the Bloc Québécois in maintaining that the parties currently all agree on keeping the time frame at five days. The NDP is also in favour of a five-day time frame. We do not have any problems with that.
Let us assume that the committee really is its own master. I believe that all the committee members are reasonable people. If some day a special meeting of the committee is called when we are not here in the House of Commons—in July for example—I am sure that the members are reasonable enough to know whether they will be able to be there or not, whether they will be able to have witnesses on time or not. I really do not see where there could be a problem. We have been operating under these Standing Orders for a few years now—under the previous minority government as well—and have not had any problems that we could not live with.
It is important to agree on the five-day time frame. It is also important for committee members to be able to call a special meeting of any committee of the House of Commons because some things cannot wait ten days. Actually, it was the Conservatives when they were in opposition who convinced us of this and persuaded us that this Standing Order would be good.
For example, if the Standing Committee on National Defence decided to call a meeting very quickly because of an emergency of some kind, we would certainly not want to wait ten days while our country was at war and certain decisions had to be made in committee. There are all kinds of committees that can have emergencies and have to be able to meet.
For those who do not know and for those who are listening, how often has a committee decided to call witnesses on a Tuesday to appear on the Thursday, thus giving only two days' notice? How many times has it been said on Wednesday that they would like such and such a witness the next morning and every effort is made to have the witness appear before the parliamentary committee?
Thus, there is no problem. Then why propose an amendment here, today, when in committee we very clearly stated that we would adopt permanently the amendment to the Standing Orders and, if there were any problems, we could go back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, propose a motion and resubmit a recommendation to Parliament? If there were any technical problems we would solve them if necessary. However, we must ensure that these Standing Orders are adopted immediately. They must not be set aside or lost in the fuss such that we suddenly find ourselves without our Standing Orders.
The majority in Parliament should be able to decide. It decided by introducing the motion in the House of Commons. It is clear that we must move forward. For that reason, personally and as NDP whip on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I can say that the NDP is against the amendment. We want the motion to go ahead in order to make the Standing Orders permanent. Then, if changes are required, we will make them after. That can be done in the near future and quickly.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the 17th report of the procedure and House affairs committee dealing with the provisional Standing Orders, which are the changes that were made to the Standing Orders and hopefully making the provisional Standing Orders permanent.
I heard the parliamentary secretary say to my colleague from that the issue is not the provisional Standing Orders, that the issue is that the official opposition broke its word. I really want to put this to rest. That is clearly not the issue today. The issue is whether or not the provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent and whether or not they should go forward.
To go back into the history of the subject, we should be very clear that when these items were discussed in the House leaders meetings there was agreement that there would be discussion. That discussion did not take place, but there is nothing to preclude it from coming up at the procedure and House affairs committee, which is an entirely appropriate committee for that kind of discussion to take place.
I find it curious that the government would now say that this is about breaking faith or breaking an agreement. Clearly that discussion was had in the committee. That is why we are here now with this report today. I would just leave that aside, because I think it is a secondary matter. The issue is whether or not the provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent.
From the NDP's point of view we are in agreement that they should be made permanent. They were first brought forward in the last minority Parliament. Ironically it was discussions among the three opposition parties at that time, including the party that is now the government but was then the official opposition, the Conservative Party, which looked at the Standing Orders and brought forward these provisional changes in the last minority Parliament.
Why was that done? The changes were brought forward on the basis that there was agreement among those three parties at the time to actually make this place more democratic. Mr. Speaker, as you well know, being the dean of the House, you have seen the erosion over the decades of democratic practice in this House.
This was actually an attempt by the three opposition parties in the last minority Parliament to look at the Standing Orders to figure out where there was some agreement on what could be done to make some of the procedures and the practices that we live by more democratic and more open. They were important changes. In fact, they were adopted by the last Parliament, but they were not permanently set; they were set as a provisional order.
In terms of whether or not the changes themselves should become permanent, I think they are good changes. Over the last couple of years we have had a great deal of experience with the provisional Standing Orders. We know how they work. I think there is a very strong consensus, at least among three parties, that they should remain.
One of the provisional Standing Orders is that all opposition days should be votable. This is something that is very important to the NDP. In the permanent Standing Orders not all of the opposition days, or supply days, were votable. It seemed to us to be very forward looking to make supply days, opposition days, votable. We have now done that. It is considered to be acceptable and I hope that it is not under dispute.
There is also the setting of the supply days in a regular cycle to ensure for example that our party gets three opposition days. This is something that did not happen before as a smaller party. It is a very important change. It gives a more level playing field to the NDP to ensure there is an additional opposition day. Previously for us this was always very much in question; sometimes we would get it and sometimes we would not. These changes ensure that we get that third opposition day.
The second item is the debate and vote on motions to concur in committee reports. This is very important. This item is likely one which the government now wishes it had not agreed to. It is very interesting how positions can change when in opposition or in government, but at that time, the opposition, the Conservative Party, was very eager to get this change through.
We have had a great deal of experience with it. The idea that a committee can bring forward a report, just as we are doing today, and have a debate on it in the House and then a vote really gives voice to the work that members undertake in committees. Members on all sides have experienced a lot of frustration in that the work that is done in committee, which is often very solid and good work, does not get any expression in terms of being adopted or brought forward in the House. That provisional Standing Order allows for that to happen.
Many reports have been brought forward and have had a full debate in the House, and then we have actually voted on them. It has provided very good continuity between the work in the committee and what comes into the House. It provides members with a sense of encouragement that the work they undertake in committee can actually be brought forward to the House and voted upon.
In that way the provisional Standing Orders are quite substantive. In my opinion the provisional Standing Orders improve the practice and the democracy in the procedure that we use in the House of Commons. Do we need to go further? Absolutely.
Today the NDP held a press conference. We put forward a motion in the procedure and House affairs committee to urge the committee to consider a report from 1992, 15 years ago. I am sure members will remember that report. It was a report of the special advisory committee to the Speaker. It put forward a number of very sensible, intelligent recommendations about improving decorum in the House.
We have certainly seen the situation in the last week, but even since the beginning of this Parliament, there has been a sense of chaos. There has been a lack of respect for each other, a level of debate that has gotten down to name calling. Sexist and racist remarks have been made in this House.
The NDP was very interested to take that report off the shelf, so to speak, to dust it off and bring it forward. That report from 15 years ago when John Fraser was the Speaker was never acted upon and it is time to bring it forward again. In the meantime, I think we can do our business by making sure that the provisional Standing Orders become permanent.
A lot more work needs to be done in terms of the Standing Orders, the procedures that we follow, as well as improving the decorum in the House. We are very interested in seeing another debate take place at the procedure and House affairs committee on this issue of the June 22, 1992 report to the Speaker from the special advisory committee. We hope it will generate further discussion about what we need to do as parliamentarians, what responsibility we need to take individually, within our caucus, as parties and as the government to ensure that this place reflects a much higher standard about how we do our business.
I wanted to bring that issue up because it puts this debate in a broader context. I know that people who watch question period, who watch the debates in the House of Commons, or who visit the House and sit in the gallery are sometimes aghast at what takes place here.
The more that we can take these issues on, not in a way that is sort of dealing with celebrity politics, which is what we have seen in the last few days, but to deal with this in a serious, substantive way that focuses on the changes that need to be made, so that we can show the public that this Parliament is respectful, that it is about serious debate and that we actually confer, I hope, on the Speaker a greater discretion and mandate from the parties to actually keep order in this place.
I am sure that is something that this Speaker would agree with. I think a lot of people think it is long overdue. We will get to that. We have just introduced that at committee today. In the meantime, I think we can do our business by making sure that these provisional standing orders do become permanent.
An amendment has been put forward by the government which basically seeks to undo all of that by sending the report back to the committee. We will not be voting for the amendment because we think that the provisional Standing Orders should become permanent. I would say to the government that if there are some technical issues that need to be further considered, we are certainly open to doing that at committee. There is nothing to prevent the government or any other member of the committee from raising consequential issues and further debate around the provisional Standing Orders.
We are not prepared today to see this go down and be lost. We have an opportunity now to make them permanent. If we need to do more review in terms of technical issues, that is fine, no problem, but on the principle of what these provisional Standing Orders represent, we are behind them. We support them here today and hope that members of the House will support them as well.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to what I consider to be an extremely important issue.
First, beyond the issue that we will be discussing for the next few minutes, there is something all Canadians should recognize as well. Despite what my hon. colleague from the official opposition, the opposition chief whip, has stated, the intent of this motion is not to discuss whether provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent. It is not even about whether an agreement was broken. The purpose of the motion today is the official opposition, and I suspect in concurrence with other opposition parties, clearly wants to hijack the workings of Parliament. The members of the opposition are using procedural tactics, which are available to them, to delay proper implementation of government legislation. They are using delaying tactics, in other words, to disallow full discourse and debate on government legislation, which we introduced into this place. They are doing that for their own political partisan reasons and, frankly, that is not only objectionable, it circumvents and undermines the purpose of this place.
My hon. colleague, the chief opposition whip, said in her opening remarks, when she introduced the concurrence motion, that the provisional Standing Orders served a number of purposes. One is to allow opposition parties the ability to introduce motions, to speak and to question government members. However, she also said something extremely important. The provisional Standing Orders or the Standing Orders should allow the government to conduct its business. In other words, it should allow the government to govern.
I totally agree with that. The Standing Orders should allow governments to govern. On one hand, the chief opposition whip agrees with that statement. Yet on the other hand, and proof is in today's concurrence motion, which is the fourth of fifth concurrence motion we have had in the last two weeks, she is delaying the ability of the government to govern. That is the first point and I want to get it on the record.
This is highly objectionable. I think most Canadians would agree with me that the purpose of Parliament is to pass legislation or to at least have healthy debate on the it. Yet by the very action of the opposition members, that debate is not taking place. They are finding ways, through procedural tactics, to shelve any meaningful debate on legislation that the government plans to bring forward.
This aside, that is their right. Under the Standing Orders, they can introduce concurrence motions. They have done so. We are now debating the motion for three hours instead of debating government legislation, but so be it. I will accept that because it is something that is available to all opposition members.
I want to turn my attention to the motion at hand. I again want to emphasize that the real issue in the debate on Standing Orders, whether the provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent, is not the issue. The issue is there was an agreement in place that was broken. I believe strongly that agreements and words are extremely important in this place. We could not operate in this place if we had a culture in which a word that was given could be broken at a whim.
I know you, Mr. Speaker, being the senior statesman in this place, would understand. Over the last few decades you have worked in this place and represented Canadians here. I suggest to you that you feel quite strongly that when one gives his or her word to a colleague, that word should be respected, that word should be honoured and to break that word is extremely serious. This is the issue with which we are dealing.
Even though it has been talked about before, let me give the scenario that occurred, chronologically.
On September 19 of this year, the meeting of the House leaders took place, at which time the government House leader talked about extending the provisional Standing Orders for approximately 60 days, until November 21. The reason the government House leader introduced this was because the previous agreement was that the provisional Standing Orders would stay in place only until October 10. If they were not put into place in a permanent fashion at that time, we would revert back to the old Standing Orders.
The government House leader then said that we should have some all party discussion on whether these provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent or whether they should perhaps be amended somewhat. He proposed to extend the provisional Standing Orders until November 21, an additional 60 days. He suggested that during that 60 day extension, the staff of all four parties get together and discuss whether there should be amendments or whether we were happy with the provisional Standing Orders as written. Then we could adopt them into a permanent state, with or without amendments, by the November 21. All House leaders said that was reasonable and they agreed to it.
The following day, on September 20, the government House leader, in this place, introduced the motion asking for unanimous consent to extend the provisional Standing Orders until November 21, as agreed upon in the previous day's House leaders' meeting. It was unanimously agreed upon. That is why I say there is indisputable proof that there was an agreement made at the House leaders' meeting of September 19.
I have great respect for all of my colleagues in positions such as whips or House leaders, or caucus officer positions. Not only do I have respect for them, I absolutely know they are intelligent people who would not allow a motion to pass unanimously unless there had been an agreement. In other words, if we, as the government, tried to pull a fast one and we asked for unanimous consent for a motion and we tried to slide something through, if there had not been an agreement the previous day at the House leaders' meeting, my colleagues on the opposition benches would not have given unanimous consent. However, they did not do that. Everyone agreed to pass the motion unanimously, which again verifies my contention that there was an agreement in place. That is indisputable.
Now having proved that there was an agreement in place, what happened? Rather than waiting until November 21, rather than waiting for all staff members from all opposition parties and the government to get together to examine these provisional Standing Orders to determine whether there should be amendments made and rather than honouring the agreement, on October 5 of this year, at the procedures and House affairs committee, the chief opposition whip introduced a motion, without prior consultation, stating that she wished to make the provisional Standing Orders permanent immediately. That was in violation of the agreement, which stated they should remain in effect until November 21. This is the issue that I am debating. An agreement was broken.
The reason the opposition whip introduced this motion was payback. Opposition members were upset at us because we used a provisional tactic several days beforehand, Standing Order 56.1, and we caught the opposition by surprise.
The circumstances were this. Bill C-24 was being debated in this place. It was the softwood lumber debate, legislation which we had introduced and we wanted to get passed as quickly as possible. Our colleagues from the NDP, during debate, kept raising amendments and subamendments, and then putting up speakers to deal with those amendments and subamendments. That is perfectly acceptable under the Standing Orders of this place. NDP members were, in other words, using procedural tactics to delay implementation of Bill . They did not agree with Bill , so they were using procedural tactics to delay the implementation of it as long as they possibly could.
The Conservatives disagreed. We felt this bill was an extremely important piece of legislation that would benefit the softwood lumber industry and finally put an end to years and years of litigation and dispute between Canada and the U.S. We wanted to fast track the bill. We wanted to stop with these sorts of procedural delays, get the debate completed, get the bill to committee, and ultimately vote on it in this place.
What did we do? We employed a procedural tactic of our own. It is called Standing Order 56.1(3). For those in the gallery and the Canadian viewing public, it is what I would suggest is a fairly arcane procedural Standing Order, which says that there needs to be 25 members of the opposition in this place to defeat a motion that we were about to bring forward.
One day, knowing that the opposition tends not to show up to work very often, the Conservatives introduced a motion which would, to cut to the chase, effectively limit the amount of debate that the NDP would be able to use. In other words, it would stop the NDP from using its procedural tactics to continue to delay the implementation of this bill.
The Conservatives introduced a motion and all of a sudden, by the rules of this place, all of those opposed to our motion had to stand and be counted. There needed to be 25 opposition members to defeat our motion. What happened? There were only 21 opposition members in this place at that time.
I would suggest that speaks volumes about the intentions of the members opposite who actually do not think it is that important to show up to this place during routine proceedings. Nonetheless, only 21 members stood, so the NDP could not defeat our motion. Consequently, it was stymied in its attempts to delay discussion and debate on Bill .
In other words, because of the procedural tactic the Conservatives used, the opposition was angry. Opposition members were very angry and decided they had to push back, that there was payback and there were consequences. They were angry that the Conservatives pulled a fast one like that, embarrassed NDP members, and stifled their ability to talk about a bill they did not agree with.
What happened? On October 5 in the procedure and House affairs committee the opposition whip introduced a motion to break an agreement. She introduced a motion that would place a permanent status on the provisional Standing Orders. She said no, the opposition was not going to honour the agreement to wait until November 21 and was not going to honour the agreement to allow all staff members to get together and examine the provisional Standing Orders to see whether amendments should or could be made. It was going to say to heck with that, it wanted to break the agreement, and wanted these Standing Orders to be made permanent immediately.
That is the issue. The opposition members broke their word. That much is indisputable. In every question and comment period, I have asked every member opposite the simple question of whether there was an agreement in place and not one of the members has had the courage to stand here and say, “Yes, you were right, there was an agreement and that agreement was broken”. They try to change the channel, skirt the issue, and stand in this place to say that is not really issue. The issue is that we should be discussing these provisional Standing Orders. That is the issue.
When members give their word of honour in this place, I suggest they must honour that word. This place could not operate without it. We all know that. From time to time in committees, opposition and government members get together and say, “We are debating something in committee. Can I count on your support?” If somebody says yes, that word is taken as that person's bond.
If we start breaking agreements and breaking our word, then our word is meaningless. This place will not operate. I will give an example of something that affected me, but will show all members how I try to conduct myself in this place.
I was first elected in 2004. I was new to this place and new to the committee structure. I was on, ironically enough, the ethics committee at that time. During debate of some motion that was coming forward, the hon. NDP member for , I believe, gave me a phone call and told me he was introducing something and that he would like my support. He explained his position to me. I said it sounded reasonable and made sense, so I said I would vote with him and support him when that initiative was brought before the committee.
I found out fairly quickly that perhaps before giving one's word one may want to consult with one's own party because I found out afterwards that it was not the position my party wanted to take. They gave me some very salient and cogent sort of explanations of why we should oppose the initiative that the member for was going to introduce.
It came before the committee and what did I do? I voted with the member. I opposed our party's wishes. I paid for it. I had a discussion with some of our caucus officers who told me that they did not really appreciate my position, but the reason I did it was because I had given the member my word and was willing to live with the consequences. That is how this place must operate, I would suggest.
We have a fundamental issue and that is the issue of the day, the agreement that was made at the September 19 House leaders meeting has been broken. Nothing else matters. These provisional Standing Orders, I could live with them as they are. I could live with them with minor amendments, but that is not the issue.
An agreement was broken and it was done deliberately for partisan reasons, not for the benefit of Canadians, and not because we want to get these provisional Standing Orders in effect today. They would have been effect in any event come November 21 because I would guarantee that all members of the committee, prior to November 21, would have brought forward a motion to deal with it before the deadline ran out. It would have been voted in favour. Those provisional Standing Orders would have been adopted with or without amendments.
However, the opposition party and the chief opposition whip brought this motion forward as a form of what probably may be considered as political payback, but in effect the opposition broke an agreement. It broke its word and that is the issue that we have to deal with here.
We will always disagree on fundamental issues. We will always agree to disagree ideologically, politically and philosophically, but I would suggest, and hope, that every member in this place would agree that when a member of this place gives his or her word to another member, that word should be honoured, and it is not.
We have had, in my opinion again, a serious breach of trust in this place. Some might suggest that the trust has been lacking for a long time. I could agree where some members would suggest that this place is not conducive to trustworthiness. Certainly, all parties are suspicious of the motives of other parties from time to time.
I am quite convinced, even as I speak now, that there are members in the opposition ranks who feel that my motives are politically driven. I just want to assure them, whether or not they take me at my word, that they are not. I absolutely believe that when one gives his or her word in this place, it must be honoured.
We are starting to break down the ability of members to trust one another in the most primary and fundamental environment of asking whether another member will agree to support one and to support a piece of legislation. When a word is broken, when a trust and a bond is broken, I do not believe we can operate efficiently. That is the issue.
I would ask in summation that every member in this place stand during their comments or in their questions, and please accommodate me and answer one simple question. Do they not believe that when one gives his or her word in this place, it should be honoured?
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for allowing me to speak today to this extremely important issue.
For those who are watching this, it may seem a rather arcane issue dealing with the provisional Standing Orders but these are the rules upon which we can function and serve our constituents and our country in the House. These are the rules that have been put together to enable us to serve our country and our communities.
None of this is new. These provisional Standing Orders were put forth and supported strongly by the Conservatives when they were in opposition and by us in an effort to open up this place and make it more democratic.
How extreme are the provisional Standing Orders? What are these rules that we are actually talking about? Why do we want them to continue and why does the government wish that they not continue?
One of the Standing Orders would allow individuals in this House to question the and the Leader of the Opposition for 10 minutes after they make a speech on a government motion. What is so flawed and so bad about enabling members for the first time to ask questions of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in response to words they have uttered in this House?
This is the type of questioning that is the pillar of our Westminster system. It allows members to represent their constituents and ask the person who holds the highest office in the land the questions that their constituents are concerned about. This was never allowed before under the provisional Standing Orders.
It is logical that the Conservative Party would have supported this in opposition and why my party supported these particular changes. It was a very important move to open this House up and become more democratic.
These rules also allow members to split their time with other members. One of the frustrations I think we all have, because there are limited times and limited slots in which to speak, is that we all wish to have an opportunity to speak to particular motions that occur.
Historically, a member only had 10 minutes to speak and therefore only a few members of Parliament had the opportunity to articulate their views and those of their constituents in this House on a motion. The changes we are talking about today allow members to split their time. It allows more members to voice their views in this hallowed chamber. Is that so bad? Is that so undemocratic? Is that such a violation that the government cannot live with this?
These provisional Standing Orders also allow us to debate concurrence motions. Another frustration I think we all have is that all of us have passed motions in committees. A lot of good work occurs in committee and, in many ways, a lot of the more constructive work on issues actually occurs in committees. The environment in committee tends to be a little more collegial and a little less confrontational than what we have in the House. It is perhaps because we are less than two sword lengths away from each other.
However, the reality is that motions passed in committee are oftentimes constructive motions, policy driven motions and motions in the public interest. Those motions, historically, have disappeared into the aether because we never had a mechanism upon which those motions could come to the House for a more fulsome debate and where the public could be made aware of those issues through the substantive debate that would take place on those issues.
In the foreign affairs committee, for example, we in the Liberal Party passed substantive motions and supported motions dealing with Afghanistan, HIV-AIDS, Zimbabwe, Darfur, the Congo and a number of other crises occurring in the world, and we passed those motions. Sometimes, with the use of these Standing Order changes, those motions and motions like them have been allowed to come to the House so the public can listen to the debates and hear the constructive solutions being offered by members from all sides.
Why on earth would government members not want these orders, which allow members from all sides, including their own, to represent their constituents and articulate their solutions, to continue?
Why on earth would the government desire to quell, quash and stop these democratic interventions that allow a more fulsome and constructive debate and a more solution oriented, policy and factually driven debate where we ultimately get action on the issues Canadians care about?
The Conservatives would block it because we have a government that is unlike any other that we have seen before. We have a government not by the people and for the people. We have a government by one person, for one party. The new is not one who is necessarily cut from the cloth of others. His viewpoint is one that is rooted in ideology, where ideology trumps science, fact and everything but the pursuit of power.
It stems from a type of thinking that comes from an obscure professor in the U.S. named Professor Strauss. This is the Straussian view of the world that is held by a few but important individuals. The intellectual bedmates of the are people like Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld. They are all acolytes of this professor who lived earlier on in the 20th century.
Professor Strauss' view of the world was not one rooted in democracy. He believed that effective government came from the top, from a small number of people driven by ideology, who would force their will through a government structure and implement those solutions for a country. However, the inherent danger in that is that it violates the very roots of democracy and of this institution. That is what we have now. We have a driven by ideology, not driven by science and not driven by facts.
I will give some examples, the most egregious example of which is the issue of drug policy. That was manifested this summer in the almost willingness of the government to not allow the safe injection sites to continue in Vancouver. The government maintained that it needed more studies. These studies were done by some of the top researchers in the world and they were published in The Lancet. The studies showed very clearly that the safe injection site in Vancouver saved lives, saved money and was humane. These studies, which were done by independent assessors, some of the top scientific minds and researchers in Canada, showed that the safe injection site in Vancouver worked.
When I spoke to the he said that more studies were needed and he only extended this safe injection site for one year, not the three and a half years that were required. Why? It is because the government thinks it can hold an election and get a majority and, I believe, stop that safe injection site. The Conservatives will also not allow any other similar sites to occur in any other part of the country. Why? It is because ideologically they believe that safe injection sites are immoral and not in the interests of the public, but that completely ignores the facts.
We have, it is sad to say, a government run by one who believes that he is an omnibus cabinet minister. That is why we are seeing cabinet ministers, some of whom are very bright people and have very good ideas, being asked to shut up and to not offer any constructive solutions on how they can build public policy. All public policy comes from one person, the Prime Minister and a small number of people around him. The cabinet members are simply asked to trot out these solutions that the Prime Minister offers. That is not democracy.
The public who voted for the Conservative Party, particularly those people who are rooted in the Reform angle and who strongly believe in democracy and democratizing this House, would find it anathema to them that their government would not support these Standing Orders that allow members from all sides, including their own, to offer solutions in a constructive way.
It is sad to say that when the calls on his cabinet ministers, it is really to ask them to play the fall person to deal with mistakes that he has made.
The most recent example is the so-called environment bill, which has nothing to do with environmental protection. It has nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions, the reason being that the at heart has chosen to ignore the signs, to ignore the facts and to believe that global warming is not really occurring. He is trusting his ideological belief over the actual scientific evidence, which demonstrates very clearly that global warming is occurring and is due to greenhouse gas emissions and that we have to act to make the changes necessary to ensure that we will be able to reverse this trend. It is very important for us, given our location in the world and the implications for the heating of our glaciers and our arctic areas, which is having a profound impact not only upon our country, but upon the world.
The other area is the so-called accountability bill. The accountability bill has nothing to do with accountability. It is but another example of many of the couching something in a certain way to lead people to believe that it is something it is not. The accountability bill is going to destroy the ability of the public service to innovate and to do the job it has done so honourably for so many decades. It also is going to prevent good people from joining the public service. We are having now and will have in the future a major problem with respect to attrition taking place in the public service and our need to attract to the public service the smart, dynamic, hard-working individuals we have always had.
Why should people join the public service if Bill , the accountability bill, comes to pass, when they will have to be continually watching over their backs and continually having a hammer over their heads, and when their ability to influence and innovate is dramatically affected in a negative way? There are already checks and balances over the behaviour of the public servants, like there are over the behaviour of the House. We do not need any more of those.
Furthermore, the accountability bill has nothing to do with accountability, because accountability is the obligation of us as elected officials and of senior government officials to tell the public what we are doing before we do it and to respond to what has been done in the public interest. That is not what the accountability bill is about at all. In fact, when asked in the House to define simple public accountability, not one of those members could do that.
Furthermore, there is not even a definition of accountability in the bill. I hope the public recognizes that it is not what it seems and that the government is engaging in a number of behaviours and interventions that are diametrically opposed to the public good.
Not supporting these Standing Orders, not making these Standing Orders a matter of the rules on which the House continues, will be a complete violation of what the Conservatives have always supported and what we have commonly come to know as our basic democratic rights as members of Parliament.
We can also see that the government has been engaging in another pattern of behaviour, one that I have not seen in 13 years. It is quelling and quashing the ability of the public service to deal with members of Parliament, particularly those in opposition. It is very difficult for us to get information about what is occurring in the public service and to have meetings with public servants, who have always been very forthcoming in providing us with briefings in areas of our responsibility.
Since the new government has come along, I think the message has come down from on high, from the Prime Minister's Office, that members of the public service and the bureaucracy are not allowed to speak to members of the opposition. Roadblocks have been put in place to prevent us from being able to attend meetings and from dealing with and addressing members of the public service in a forthright and transparent fashion. That is a complete violation of our ability to do our jobs as members of Parliament in the service of the public.
The government also clearly is engaging in the behaviour of putting forth policies and using issues in a way that can harm Canadians. I will give but one example.
In the extension of the mission to Afghanistan, the framed the argument as being that if we do not support the extension of the mission then we do not support our troops. What an absolute pile of nonsense. That is an absolute use of our troops for the 's own political gain. All of us, I think, at least those of us in the opposition, were extremely angry that the would have used our troops, who are giving their lives abroad for us, in such a naked political way.
We asked the 's government to have the briefings and the information so we could respond and vote on this particular issue in a way that is responsible. There is no other duty that we have in this House, no other issue that is more difficult and no other issue that deserves more attention than when we put the lives of our troops on the line for the interests of our country.
Yet the government and gave the people of our House, members of Parliament, a mere 48 hours in order to respond. There was not enough time to get the information on issues such as the following. What is the government going to do in terms of the development framework in Afghanistan? What are the government's plans for training the Afghan security forces? What are the government's plans for dealing with the insurgency coming from outside Afghanistan? What is the government's plan to deal with the poppy crop? As Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, said very clearly, “If we do not destroy poppies in Afghanistan, then poppies will destroy us”.
Why, in those four areas, could we not simply get the answers that would enable us to ensure that the conditions for the success of the mission were going to be there? The reason the did not allow it is that the knew his government was not putting out the interest, the attention and the resources to deal with those four issues that are conditional to the success of the mission in Afghanistan. He would rather use the issue as a political ploy to try to divide the opposition and to be able to erroneously show the public that those who do not support an extension at this time are somehow against our troops, which is absolute rubbish.
Behind that is a more evil intention. That evil intention is the desire on the part of the to use our troops for political gain. They should never be used for political gain. I hope the public sees that. I hope public understands that what we are trying to do is make sure that the conditions for the success of our mission in Afghanistan are there.
We also have been very clear in trying to articulate and demonstrate to the public that the policies the government has pursued in some areas are not what they seem. The government has trotted out policies on taxes. What it has done is raise the taxes on the poor. How on earth could any government in good conscience raise taxes on those who are the most vulnerable in our society? That is what the government has done.
The government talks about a child care program. Is the child care program a child care program? No, it is not. It is $1,200 before taxes for Canadians for their children under the age of six. That amounts to less than the cost of the cup of latte a day. That is not child care.
I hope the public understands that what we are trying to do here in this House with respect to these particular Standing Orders is enable and codify these orders in the House, which would enable us to have debates the public can see, give all members the ability to put forth solutions that would enable us to be constructive in the interests of our constituents, and enable us to work in the interests of the public.
We do not have enough opportunities to do that. These Standing Orders will enable us to do that. I think it is quite remarkable that the Conservative government that is now in power is now trying to block the very tools that will enable all MPs to be able to do their job.
I particularly ask members of Parliament who are in the backbenches of the Conservative Party to reflect on why their has muzzled them, has tried to muzzle the press and has muzzled his cabinet. The believes that he is the omnibus prime minister and that he is the font of all good ideas, but there is a dramatic danger there, in that no one person can be the government. It requires the best efforts of all people.
I hope the Canadian public understands that. I hope the government comes to its senses and supports these Standing Orders becoming permanent.
): Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a point of order in connection with your last comment. I am not in fact intervening at the special request of the government. According to the principle of rotation, a Liberal member rose first, then you recognized a second Liberal member. Since no one from the government rose, it is automatically my turn to rise.
I was standing and you recognized two Liberal members. My point of order having been raised, I inform you that I will split my time with my colleague from .
I am pleased to speak to this motion, in my capacity as vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. From the outset I have been involved in discussions within our parliamentary committee. I do not wish to repeat here everything that was said in committee. In order to maintain a certain credibility, we parliamentarians in this House have a certain obligation to be consistent and behave logically.
Nevertheless, regardless of their allegiance or political opinion, we note that some politicians have credibility problems. They claim one thing when they are in the opposition and, when their party is in power, they claim the opposite.
Implementation of these Standing Orders—implementation that we wish to be permanent but that has been provisional for more than 20 months—requires some consistency on the part of the Conservative Party and the Conservative government.
Let me explain. When the Speech from the Throne was adopted in 2004, following the election on June 28, 2004, discussions were held among the three opposition party leaders: the leader of the Conservative Party, the leader of the Bloc Québécois and the leader of the NDP. During these discussions about the arrival of a minority government, it was agreed that we should adopt some new rules to reflect the reality of a minority government. I will recall that the current , then leader of the opposition, was in full agreement with this approach.
The Conservative Party, now in power, no longer likes the rules it thought were fine when it was in opposition. The government, with its attitude and its parliamentary tactics, is preventing the provisional Standing Orders from becoming permanent. We have seen it in this file, as we have seen in many other files, such as those concerning the environment and the government’s foreign policy. I am thinking of Afghanistan and the bombing in southern Lebanon.
Fortunately this Conservative government is a minority government. Fortunately this Conservative government cannot do what it wants. Fortunately the members of the opposition parties, whose numbers are greater, can prevent the Conservative Party from doing what it wants.
I am asking the government and the Conservative Party to be consistent. They agreed to change these rules. At the time, the Liberal Party was in government and opposed the changes. Now that it is in opposition, it supports them. The Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois agree that these provisional standing orders should become permanent.
I would like to discuss one rule in particular that is really important. I am referring to subsection 106(4) of our Standing Orders, according to which any four members of a committee may, with five days' notice, convene a meeting of a standing committee.
The previous rule required ten days' notice. The Conservatives agreed with us to reduce that to five days, for the very good reason that this standing order comes into effect mainly when Parliament is not sitting and an emergency arises. As you know, most committees meet twice a week, so there is no need to convene the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We met this morning and we will meet Thursday morning, unless some event occurs to change that. This standing order comes into effect and is used most often during the summer and winter holiday recesses.
Previously, ten days' notice was required. We agreed to reduce this to five days because of the exceptional nature of the measure. Convening a standing committee requires some unusual event, some emergency to have taken place to bring parliamentarians together as quickly as possible, hear witnesses and report to the House once the session resumes.
Given how quickly certain events progress, whatever made headlines this morning will still be an issue in five days, but it might not be in ten days.
It is a clear-cut case of the Conservatives having agreed to reduce the number of days to five but now that is one of the points of contention. Let us reread the transcripts of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The government whip was explicit: it is one of the Standing Orders with which the government does not agree, and one that the government would like to change back to ten days.
I reminded the government whip that, as far as I could recall, we had used this Standing Order three times when we were the official opposition. We had asked, during the summer, that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade be convened to answer questions pertaining to the discovery of prisoners of war and to the JTF2 unit. We had asked for light to be shed on these matters by convening the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. The Conservatives agreed.
We asked that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology be convened due to the rising cost of petroleum products caused by the greed of oil companies eager to pocket greater profits. The Conservatives agreed.
Furthermore, in the summer of 2004, I clearly remember being at the centre of a strategy to convene the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, chaired by the member for , to examine the sponsorship scandal. The Conservatives agreed with us regarding the five day rule.
They should behave as they did when in opposition and consider the logic behind these changes to the Standing Orders.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his extremely pertinent remarks, considering what is happening this morning in this House.
I know that the word “hypocrite” is not parliamentary, and I am certainly not going to use it, but I believe that the word “Pharisee” is.
Still, it is rather unbelievable to witness such a situation this morning. When the Conservatives were in opposition — remember that this took place in the post-Gomery period — they wanted Parliament to be more transparent, for parliamentarians to be more efficient, more accountable, and they wanted to enhance the role of every member. They wanted to put parliamentary business at the centre of this reform.
We know that members spend a great deal of time in committee. I remember when I was elected in 1993, the leader of the Bloc Québécois at the time, Lucien Bouchard, told us that question period was important and made it possible to exercise some control on the actions of the government, but that it was in committee work that a member reached his true worth. It was there that a member’s knowledge of an issue could be seen, it was there that in-depth examination was carried out and it was there that bills could be improved.
We were looking for a revision of the Standing Orders and the adoption of these new rules, which were one of the demands of the Conservatives. I recall even some aspects that were not contained in the new Standing Orders. For example, when they were in opposition, the Conservatives wanted all private members bills brought to a vote. They said that whenever there is a debate, reports or bills, there should be an exchange between parliamentarians.
What a government of Pharisees we have there! What hypocrisy; what a shame after the promise given for the government to back track! The current , who was then the leader of the opposition, had made demands for an amendment to the Speech from the Throne. All political parties, all the party leaders were agreed on a reform of the Standing Orders. Today, a government that receives 17% of the projected vote in Quebec, and almost 30% nationally, is acting like those traditional parties who lose the confidence and respect of our fellow Canadians. Why? Because they say one thing when they are in opposition and do the opposite when they are in government.
Thankfully, this is not a majority government and, God and the voters willing, it will never be. This is a government that is unable to follow through on promises. Members in this House may have differing convictions. We can lean toward the left or the right. We can believe in government intervention or have greater faith in private enterprise. We may have a different vision of the social contract by which we exist and interact. But, in a Parliament, you cannot behave in such a way as to do the opposite of what you said when in opposition. That is unacceptable and, once again, it goes to show that the Conservatives are an immature party, unable to govern the state respectfully.
Let us get into a bit more detail. What did the reformed Standing Orders provide? First was the matter of opposition days. Members know that, for each parliamentary calendar, opposition parties may submit to the table officer a list of topics of current interest for the consideration of the House, which will be votable. Understandably, the number of opposition days is proportionate to the respective number of seats of the various political parties.
This means that the official opposition has more opposition days than the Bloc, and the Bloc has more than the NDP. Opposition days are an important mechanism whereby political parties can draw attention to problems. For example, the Bloc Québécois had opposition days on the POWA, the lack of control over gasoline prices, the missile defence shield and lumber. When they were in opposition, the Conservatives maintained that all opposition day motions ought to be votable. Now, they want to backtrack on that. They do not want all opposition day motions to be votable.
Again, how can we expect Canadians and Quebeckers to respect this party when it is unable to follow a guideline, and its principles, sense of honour and commitment keep changing depending on which side of the House it is sitting? That is unacceptable.
Another aspect of the Standing Orders that was a major improvement, an operating procedure that was to the benefit of all parties, is this ability to convene parliamentary committees on shorter notice. Before the amended Standing Orders were adopted, we could not convene a parliamentary committee without giving 10 days’ notice, whether it was the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities or the Standing Committee on Finance. Parliamentary committees could be convened on 10 days’ notice. Now, if the request is signed by a certain number of permanent members, a parliamentary committee can be convened on five days’ notice. This is important, because even when the House is not sitting, parliamentary committees may have to make decisions.
When our colleague, the member for , was the Bloc Québécois international trade critic, he asked that the committee be convened in the middle of the summer because of the softwood lumber agreement. At the time when my colleague from asked that the committee be convened, the softwood lumber agreement was causing the forest industry some concern. As a result of the questions asked by the Bloc Québécois, the government was of course persuaded to improve the agreement. There are therefore times when parliamentary committees have to be convened.
I would note the excellent work done by my colleague the foreign affairs critic in the last few years, and wish her a prompt recovery; she should be back with us in the near future, or at least that is what we hope for her. Our colleague from had to ask that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade be convened because of the crisis taking place in the Middle East, the Lebanon crisis.
I do not understand this double talk, this holier than thou attitude, this hypocritical attitude, which makes people incapable of keeping their word and makes them say one thing when they are in opposition and another when they are in power. What point is there in having a minister responsible for democratic reform? What point is there in talking about recognizing the role of members of Parliament? How can we think that the public will respect their elected representatives if the government zigs and zags and is incapable of keeping its word?
What a disappointment! God and our fellow citizens willing this government will never get a majority. I am convinced that our fellow citizens will sit up and realize how unworthy this government is of being given another term.