Mr. Speaker, I would like at this time to move the standard motion that can be made only today. I move:
|| That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008, and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.
Mr. Speaker, as I indicated last week in answer to the Thursday statement, this is we have work to do week. To kick off the week, we are introducing the customary motion to extend the daily sitting hours of the House for the final two weeks of the spring session. This is a motion which is so significant there is actually a specific Standing Order contemplating it, because it is the normal practice of this House, come this point in the parliamentary cycle, that we work additional hours and sit late to conduct business.
In fact, since 1982, when the House adopted a fixed calendar, such a motion has never been defeated. I underline that since a fixed calendar was adopted, such a motion has never been defeated. As a consequence, we know that today when we deal with this motion, we will discover whether the opposition parties are interested in doing the work that they have been sent here to do, or whether they are simply here to collect paycheques, take it easy and head off on a three month vacation.
On 11 of those occasions, sitting hours were extended using this motion. On six other occasions, the House used a different motion to extend the sitting hours in June. This includes the last three years of minority government.
This is not surprising. Canadians expect their members of Parliament to work hard to advance their priorities. They would not look kindly on any party that was too lazy to work a few extra hours to get as much done as possible before the three month summer break. There is a lot to get done.
In the October 2007 Speech from the Throne, we laid out our legislative agenda. It set out an agenda of clear goals focusing on five priorities to: rigorously defend Canada's sovereignty and place in the world; strengthen the federation and modernize our democratic institutions; provide effective, competitive economic leadership to maintain a competitive economy; tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians; and improve the environment and the health of Canadians. In the subsequent months, we made substantial progress on these priorities.
We passed the Speech from the Throne which laid out our legislative agenda including our environmental policy. Parliament passed Bill , the Tackling Violent Crime Act, to make our streets and communities safer by tackling violent crime. Parliament passed Bill , which implemented the 2007 economic statement. That bill reduced taxes for all Canadians, including reductions in personal income and business taxes, and the reduction of the GST to 5%.
I would like to point out that since coming into office, this government has reduced the overall tax burden for Canadians and businesses by about $190 billion, bringing taxes to their lowest level in 50 years.
We have moved forward on our food and consumer safety action plan by introducing a new Canada consumer product safety act and amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.
We have taken important steps to improve the living conditions of first nations. For example, first nations will hopefully soon have long overdue protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Bill has been passed by the House to accelerate the resolution of specific land claims.
Parliament also passed the 2008 budget. This was a balanced, focused and prudent budget to strengthen Canada amid global economic uncertainty. Budget 2008 continues to reduce debt, focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.
As well, the House adopted a motion to endorse the extension of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, with a renewed focus on reconstruction and development to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.
These are significant achievements and they illustrate a record of real results. All parliamentarians should be proud of the work we have accomplished so far in this session. However, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
As I have stated in previous weekly statements, our top priority is to secure passage of Bill , the 2008 budget implementation bill.
This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much-needed changes to the immigration system.
These measures will help keep our economy competitive.
Through the budget implementation bill, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians.
These priorities include: $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and $100 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.
These investments, however, could be threatened if the bill does not pass before the summer. That is why I am hopeful that the bill will be passed by the House later today.
The budget bill is not our only priority. Today the House completed debate at report stage on Bill , which would create a modern, transparent, accountable process for the reporting of political loans. We will vote on this bill tomorrow and debate at third reading will begin shortly thereafter.
We also wish to pass Bill , which implements our free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association.
This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.
Given that the international trade committee endorsed the agreement earlier this year, I am optimistic that the House will be able to pass this bill before we adjourn.
On Friday we introduced Bill , which responds to recent decisions relating to courts martial. That is an important bill that must be passed on a time line. Quick passage is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of our military justice system.
Last week the aboriginal affairs committee reported Bill , which implements the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. This bill has all-party support in the House. Passage of the bill this week would complement our other achievements for first nations, including the apology on Wednesday to the survivors of residential schools.
These are important bills that we think should be given an opportunity to pass. That is why we need to continue to work hard, as our rules contemplate.
The government would also like to take advantage of extended hours to advance important crime and security measures. Important justice measures are still before the House, such as: Bill , the anti-terrorism act; Bill , the auto theft bill; Bill to modernize the military justice system; and Bill , which responds to recent court martial decisions.
There are a number of other bills that we would like to see advanced in order to improve the management of the economy. There are other economic bills we would like to advance.
These include Bill , to modernize our aeronautics sector, Bill , dealing with nuclear liability, Bill , to modernize our customs rules, Bill , to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers, Bill , to give farmers more choice in marketing grain, Bill , to modernize the election process for the Canadian Wheat Board, Bill , to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers, and Bill , to modernize our fisheries sector.
If time permits, there are numerous other bills that we would like to advance.
These include Bill , to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers, Bill , to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins, Bill , to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods, Bill , to limit the terms of senators to 8 years from a current maximum of 45, and Bill , to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.
It is clear a lot of work remains before the House. Unfortunately, a number of bills have been delayed by the opposition through hoist amendments. Given these delays, it is only fair that the House extend its sitting hours to complete the bills on the order paper. As I have indicated, we still have to deal with a lot of bills.
We have seen a pattern in this Parliament where the opposition parties have decided to tie up committees to prevent the work of the people being done. They have done delay and obstruction as they did most dramatically on our crime agenda. They do not bother to come and vote one-third of time in the House of Commons. Their voting records has shown that. All of this is part of a pattern of people who are reluctant to work hard.
The government is prepared to work hard and the rules contemplate that it work hard. In fact, on every occasion, when permission has been sought at this point in the parliamentary calendar to sit extended hours, the House has granted permission, including in minority Parliaments.
If that does not happen, it will be clear to Canadians that the opposition parties do not want to work hard and are not interested in debating the important policy issues facing our country. Is it any wonder that we have had a question period dominated not by public policy questions, but dominated entirely by trivia and issues that do not matter to ordinary Canadians.
The government has been working hard to advance its agenda, to advance the agenda that we talked about with Canadians in the last election, to work on the priorities that matter to ordinary Canadians, and we are seeking the consent of the House to do this.
Before concluding, I point out, once again, that extending the daily sitting hours for the last two weeks of June is a common practice. Marleau and Montpetit, at page 346, state this is:
||—a long-standing practice whereby, prior to the prorogation of the Parliament or the start of the summer recess, the House would arrange for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance its business.
As I stated earlier, it was first formalized in the Standing Orders in 1982 when the House adopted a fixed calendar. Before then, the House often met on the weekend or continued its sittings into July to complete its work. Since 1982, the House has agreed on 11 occasions to extend the hours of sitting in the last two weeks of June.
Therefore, the motion is a routine motion designed to facilitate the business of the House and I expect it will be supported by all members. We are sent here to engage in very important business for the people of Canada. Frankly, the members in the House are paid very generously to do that work. Canadians expect them to do that work and expect them to put in the time that the rules contemplate.
All member of the House, if they seek that privilege from Canadian voters, should be prepared to do the work the rules contemplate. They should be prepared to come here to vote, to come here to debate the issues, to come here for the hours that the rules contemplate. If they are not prepared to do that work, they should step aside and turnover their obligations to people who are willing to do that work.
There is important work to be done on the commitments we made in the Speech from the Throne. I am therefore seeking the support of all members to extend our sitting hours, so we can complete work on our priorities before we adjourn for the summer. This will allow members to demonstrate results to Canadians when we return to our constituencies in two weeks.
Not very many Canadians have the privilege of the time that we have at home in our ridings, away from our work. People do not begrudge us those privileges. They think it is important for us to connect with them. However, what they expect in return is for us to work hard. They expect us to put in the hours. They expect us to carry on business in a professional fashion. The motion is all about that. It is about doing what the rules have contemplated, what has always been authorized by the House any time it has been asked, since the rule was instituted in 1982. That is why I would ask the House to support the motion to extend the hours.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this debate on the government's request to extend the sitting hours in the House of Commons for the last 10 sitting days before the summer adjournment.
The government is exercising an option that exists under the Standing Orders, particularly Standing Order 27, and it is, in effect, asking the House to sit every sitting day until 11 p.m. from now until June 19. That is the substance of the motion.
What the has tried to do in the last few minutes is to offer some justification for those extended hours. The government says, in effect, that it is necessary to have these additional hours for the next two weeks to somehow speed up its legislation, that list that is found on the order paper, but I suggest that the real reason and the main goal for this motion, on the part of the government, is to hide its own patent mismanagement of the House calendar over the last many months.
Let us look at the facts. In 2006, out of 365 days, the House sat for only 97 days. That, of course, was the year that was interrupted at the beginning of the year by the election, but in 2006, the House sat for 97 days. In 2007, the House sat for only 74 days before the government prorogued the first session of this Parliament and then instead of coming back promptly, it delayed the beginning of the second session until well into October, October 16, 2007, to be exact.
This conscious delay, this delay by the government, was its prerogative. It exercised it, so it is the Conservatives' responsibility. They effectively eliminated 16 sitting days in last fall's House calendar, not to mention all of the time that was wasted on a vacuous throne speech debate since many of the bills that remain on the order paper today were simply reinstated from the previous session. In other words, prorogation and a Speech from the Throne produced precious little that was actually new. They were just recycling the same drivel from before.
The Conservative minority government is now asking for the cooperation of opposition parties to adopt this motion to extend hours in order to help it advance an agenda that largely consists of old business, despite the fact that the government itself has squandered a great deal of time and goodwill over the course of the last two years.
I would like to take a moment to remind members of this House of the words spoken by the now when he was leader of the opposition on the topic of how to make a minority Parliament work. That is one very important factor to bear in mind in the context of this motion, that we are operating in a minority situation. I am quoting the Prime Minister's own words that are found in Hansard for October 6, 2004:
|| I believe that even when a government holds a majority it is not relieved of its obligation to consult with the opposition, with the House and with the people on important matters. That obligation is surely even more imperative when a minority government situation exists. It is the government's obligation to craft a working majority to advance its agenda by taking into account the policies and priorities expressed by the three opposition parties in the House.
In other words, a great call for cooperation in the House of Commons. I agree with what the said when he was the leader of the opposition. Unfortunately, the minority government has demonstrated no commitment to those principles that were described by the Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition. The minority government has no idea what it means to consult the opposition parties, not to mention no idea what it means to take into account their priorities.
The modus operandi of the government is one of bitter partisanship all the time, running roughshod over everything and everybody in its path, no matter what. Let us take a look at its track record.
The Conservative leadership across the way prepared and distributed, just about a year ago now, a 200-page handbook on dirty tricks, instructing its members on how to obstruct the work of Parliament should things not be going happily in its direction.
Several Conservative committee chairs have actually followed that manual on dirty tricks very carefully. One example is the justice committee, which has just been referred to, where the chair repeatedly, just as soon as the meeting gets going, gets an urgent call of nature and rushes from the room. He does this at every single meeting. Is that accidental? No. It is a conspiracy to destroy the effectiveness of that committee.
We can see the same pattern being followed at the procedure and House affairs committee, the operations committee, and the ethics committee. All of this is an effort on the part of Conservative members to hide from the truth about a seemingly never-ending series of Conservative ethical difficulties, and parliamentary committees have been sacrificed to Conservative political expediency.
The has refused to appear before standing committees to defend her supplementary estimates. The refuses to appear before the standing committee to defend her government's action, or lack of action, on official languages. It is obvious that in the Conservative government, transparency and accountability are not principles that ministers are prepared to respect.
That creates an atmosphere in the House where it is, indeed, difficult to get the kind of cooperation that the has asked for today. What is the genesis of that problem? What is the root cause? The government House leader need only look in the mirror.
I will give the House another example. The government agreed to a compromise resolution earlier in this session about Afghanistan, and particularly Canada's role in that very difficult mission. The motion was comprehensive. It involved a good deal of give and take, back and forth, across the floor. But specifically, it included the creation of a special committee to oversee that mission, to provide a greater degree of transparency and accountability back to Canadians.
After the adoption of the resolution, which occurred on March 13 of this year, a full month went by and the government had not bothered to consult with anybody with respect to the creation of that very important special committee. In fact, the Liberal official opposition had to use an opposition day to force a debate that resulted in the motion in the creation of that special committee. The government would not have taken action if the opposition had not moved to force it to do so.
With respect to consultations, I should point out that the Conservative government has a great deal of difficulty sharing information with opposition parties, especially when it concerns the proposed calendar of House business. Members will be very familiar with the vacuous speeches that always appear here in the House of Commons on the Thursday of every week in response to questions about the future agenda for the House.
The government, one would think, would take advantage of official and unofficial meetings of House leaders to share plans and priorities about how the business of the House is going to flow. The fact of the matter is that information is rarely forthcoming.
When the Conservatives were the official opposition, they demanded and they received from the government of the day a calendar outlining the government's intentions for House business for three weeks in advance. Today, we are lucky if the government can provide five days of advance notice of proposed House business from time to time.
None of that contributes to the kind of atmosphere where there is a sense of cooperation or where the government can make a convincing argument that there is a sense of urgency that justifies the motion that it has presented.
On other matters, there have been simple requests from opposition parties for things like take note debates, for example, which are no burden on the government whatsoever but they do deal with important topics like Darfur and foreign aid, and other matters of public interest where members strive, for the better part, to set aside the intense partisanship of this place and take note of a matter of important public interest.
On several occasions, House leaders have asked for the to make an occasion available for various take note debates and the government House leader's response has been simply “no”. We asked why, his answer was “No reason. My answer is just no”. He said, “I can be arbitrary so I am being arbitrary”. That again does not contribute to a good working relationship in the House.
On another item that we have seen very recently, something like advanced notice and consultation for solemn occasions, like the recent visit by the President of Ukraine and the apology on residential schools, somehow the government, rather than treating these with the dignity and the solemnity they deserve, they somehow get twisted into partisan arguments that repel other members of the House from even trying to accede to government requests.
The government has also been quite strange in managing, or mismanaging, what it says are its priorities in the House. On the election campaign, the Conservatives have repeatedly said that their priorities include things like gun control and killing the Canadian Wheat Board, and both of those things have been on the order paper. However, they have only been called for debate in the most symbolic and trivial of ways.
The legislation on firearms, for example, has been on the order paper, in my recollection, since June 2006, and it has been called for debate in the House on one occasion for one hour. Similarly, the bill on the Canadian Wheat Board has been sitting on the order paper since March of this year, and the first time the government even mentioned it was today in response to a question during question period and then on a motion after question period.
If these things were such priorities, the debates would have been called on these items months and months ago, and not just brought up at the last minute and the government saying that now they are a priority.
When we asked the government, as we have done both in the House leaders meetings and on the floor of the House, to specify the priorities it has for things that simply must be passed before the summer adjournment in a couple of weeks, all it did was simply recite in total the entire order paper.
When the government claims that everything is a priority, then clearly nothing is a priority, and the government cannot, on that basis, make a compelling argument for extended hours.
The government has tried its very best to portray the opposition as the villains who are in some way delaying the work of this Parliament as it appears on the order paper, but the fact of the matter is, when we look at the government's own delays in bringing legislation forward, when we look at its disrespect for Parliament and for the committee process, when we look at the ways that it has failed in the mandate expressed in the 's own words; that is, to consult and show respect for others in this place, then it is little wonder that when it makes a motion of this kind, the opposition is skeptical.
I would inform you, Mr. Speaker, that the official opposition will oppose this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.
First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the —that the government and the have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.
That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.
As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.
This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.
In this case, the —and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.
That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.
Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.
I am thinking about Bill , a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.
As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.
In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.
Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.
Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill , which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill , but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.
As far as Bill is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.
Finally, Bills and were both reported on by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs roughly six months ago.
All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.
It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.
This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill on auto theft.
If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.
Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.
Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.
Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.
Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.
Take Bill , for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.
I will give another example, that of Bill , which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.
These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill .
I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.
Take Bill , for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.
Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.
It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.
They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.
A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a and a who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.
We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill , which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.
These two bills, Bill and Bill , in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.
I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill , albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.
I have one last example, that is, Bill , which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.
The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.
Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill , sponsored by my colleague from . That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.
Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills , , and pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.
And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.
This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill . I cannot help but mention Bills and as well.
Bill , the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the 's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill , which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the Conservative motion, which states: “That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008,—that is today—and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.”
Mr. Steven Blaney: Agreed.
Mr. Yvon Godin: I heard the member for say “agreed”. It would be fine to sit, but what has happened over the months that have gone by? What has happened in Parliament under the Conservative minority government? What will happen in the coming months?
If the bills are so important, as the Conservatives are saying, the government can guarantee that, if the motion is not passed, the House of Commons will not be prorogued. That means that in September we will come back to the House and continue to work. The Conservatives would not prorogue until October or November, as they have done before: a young government that came to power prorogued the House of Commons when we could have been debating bills.
This session, after the May break, our calendar shows four more weeks of work. Of these four weeks, two are reserved for the possibility of extended sitting hours here in the House of Commons. I cannot accept that the Conservatives are saying that we are a bunch of lazy people, and that we do not want to work, when this government has done everything possible since last August to ensure that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could not operate.
It has been at least two or three months now since the committee last sat because the Conservatives have refused to appoint someone to chair it. The Conservatives decided that the matter submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was partisan, and that is why they are not replacing the chair.
I remember that we appointed a new chair, we voted for a new chair, but the chair never did call a meeting of the committee. The chair is being paid to carry that title, but he met with the members once, and then, it was only to adjourn. Is that not partisanship? When a party refuses to hold a public debate on things going on in Parliament or with political parties, that is partisanship.
As I recall, during the sponsorship scandal, it was fine for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was chaired at the time by an opposition Conservative member, to hold hearings and discuss the sponsorship scandal.
But now that the Conservatives are the ones who spent $18 million during the last election and shuffled money around to spend another $1.5 million on top of that, well, they do not want to talk about it. They will not talk about it. When the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was about to discuss another case, it was shut down again.
To this day, there are bills that have not been debated in committee. The Conservatives think that democracy should happen nowhere but in the House, and certainly not in committee. Parliamentary committees are an important part of our political system, our parliamentary system, our democracy. We were elected by the people in our ridings to come here and pass bills.
We cannot invite a member of the public to testify in the House of Commons, for example. We do not hear witnesses in the House of Commons. We have parliamentary committees where we can invite constituents or people from any part of the country to explain how a bill will affect them and to suggest ways to improve the bill.
For the Conservatives, the most important committee is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All they want to do is create justice bills. They would rather build prisons and put everyone in jail than adopt sound social programs to help people work and give them a fair chance in life. For the Conservatives, you either follow the straight and narrow path or you go to jail. These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in.
These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in, yet they brought the work of this committee to a standstill. The chair left the committee and said there would be no more meetings. Experts and members of the public are being prevented from talking to us about important justice bills. This evening, the Conservatives are asking to extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons until June 20 in order to discuss and pass these bills, because they are important. If we do not vote for these bills, then we are not good Canadians. That is in essence what they are saying. They do not want any debate.
They would have us believe that if we extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons every evening until June 20, there will be a terrific debate. We will debate these bills. We will have the opportunity to see democracy in action. At the same time, they have brought the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to a standstill. I have never seen such a thing in the 11 years I have been in the House of Commons. I have never seen such a thing.
I would go so far as to say that it has become a dictatorship. Everything originates from the 's Office. So much so that, last week, the complained that he was tired of rising in the House of Commons. He is the only one to stand up; the ministers do not even have the right to rise to answer questions. It is always the government House leader who answers questions. He was so tired one day last week that he knocked over his glass and spilled water on the Prime Minister. They should have thrown water on him to wake him up because he was tired. He himself told the House that he was tired.
That shows the extent to which the as well as the 's Office, and not the elected Conservative MPs, control the government's agenda. The MPs have nothing to say. There are also the little tricks of the who told members how to behave in parliamentary committee meetings, which witnesses to invite and how to control them. If they are unable to control them they interrupt the meeting. I have never seen anything like it in the 11 years that I have been an MP.
I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages since 1998. We invited the minister to appear in order to help us with our work and she refused. She refused. She was asked in the House why she refused and she replied that she did not refuse. The committee was studying the Conservatives' action plan. If they wish to make an important contribution to communities throughout the country, there is an action plan to help Canada's official language minority communities—anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of the country.
The action plan was being studied. We asked the minister to speak to us about the action plan so we could work with her. She refused and said she would appear after the plan was tabled. We will invite her again. I have never seen a minister refuse to help a committee.
We invited her again to the Standing Committee on Official Languages concerning the 2010 Olympic Games. The francophone community will not be able to watch the Olympic Games in French anywhere in the country because the contract, which was bid on by CTV, TQS and RDS, was awarded to CTV. We asked the minister to come to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Instead she said that it was not important for this country's francophones, and she declined. The communities have questions. This all happened in the fall.
This spring, at budget time, the Conservatives declared that money for the action plan or for official languages would come later. We are used to that. We receive an article in English and are told that the French will come later. That is what the budget reminded us of. The money will come later.
But people are waiting. They are wondering what will happen to their communities. People from Newfoundland and Labrador even came to speak to the committee. They told us that currently, minority language communities are having to use lines of credit or even credit cards to help the community. It would be interesting to hear the minister explain why the Conservatives are not giving that money to communities, as they should. They promised to help minority language communities.
I would like to come back to the environment. When we were supposed to be working on environmental issues, the Conservatives systematically obstructed this work for days. They said they had the right to do so. Indeed, they did have the right; that is no problem. We have done the same thing, we will admit. That is part of debate.
Someone came and asked me how we could stop this obstruction. I told that person that it was their right to obstruct and that, if they wanted to talk until the next day, they could. However, when that happens, the chair must not take sides.
Yet that is what happened at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We had to ask for the chair of the committee to step down. In fact, when we arrived at the committee meeting at 11 a.m., the Conservatives took the floor in order to filibuster and if one of them had to go to the bathroom, the chair adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes. That is no longer obstruction. When we asked the chair if it was going to continue after 1 p.m., he told us to wait until 1 p.m. to find out. Then, at 1 p.m., he decided to adjourn the meeting.
We have been trying since August to discuss the problem of the Conservatives, who had exceeded the $1.5 million spending limit allowed during the last election campaign. The problem with the Conservatives is that they want to hide everything from Canadians. They spoke of transparency, but they wanted to hide from Canadians all their misdeeds. When they were on the opposition benches, they counted on this, especially during the Liberal sponsorship scandal. I remember that and the questions they asked in the House of Commons and in parliamentary committee. They did not hold back.
But they do not want that to happen to them. And if it does, they try to hide it. That is why they did not allow a parliamentary committee to discuss the problems they had created, such as the story with Cadman, our former colleague. His wife said today that her husband told her that he was promised $1 million if he voted with the Conservatives. She never said that was not true; she said that was what in fact was said. Her own daughter said the same thing, that promises had been made. The Conservatives are saying that no one has the right to speak about that. Only they had that right when they were in the opposition, but not us. They are acting like gods and we have to listen to everything they say.
Today, they are moving a motion asking us to listen to them. And yet, when the House leaders and the whips met in committee there was nothing on the agenda. I have never seen the like. The was even asked if there was anything else on the agenda. He just smirked. He was mocking us and today he wants us to cooperate with him. The Conservatives are saying that they are here to work, but they have blocked all the work of the House of Commons for the past six months.
And they are lecturing us?
When the House leader of the Conservative Party tries to give us a lesson and says that we do not want to work, but they are here to work, I cannot believe it.
We have a committee that does not even sit right now. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has not sat for the last two or three months. The Conservatives do not want to hear what they perhaps have done wrong. If they have nothing to hide, they should have let it go ahead.
The Conservatives said that if they were to be investigated by Elections Canada, they wanted all parties to be investigated. Elections Canada did not say that all the parties were wrong. It said that the Conservative Party had broken the rules of Elections Canada by spending over the limit of $18 million. It was the Conservative Party that did that. Right away the Conservatives filed a lawsuit against Elections Canada. Now they say we should not talk about that in the House of Commons.
Every time we went to the House leader meeting and the whip meeting, they had nothing on the agenda. The Conservatives say that they are very democratic. They want a big debate in the House of Commons on bills. Bill, Bill , Bill , Bill , Bill , Bill , Bill , Bill , Bill , Bill and Bill are all at second reading.
I will not go into detail about what each and every bill is, but even if we say yes to the government, we will be unable to get through those bills. If we want to get through those bills, it will be the PMO and the 's way. The Conservatives bring bills to the House and say that members opposite should vote with them. If we do not vote, they say that we are against them. That is the way they do it, no debate.
The debate, as I said in French, should not only take place in the House of Commons; it should to take place in parliamentary committees. That is the only place where Canadians have the right to come before the committees to express themselves. That is the only place people who are experts can come before us to talk about bills, so we can make the bills better.
When a bill is put in place, it may not be such a good bill, but maybe it is a bill that could go in the right direction if all parties work on it. If we put our hands to it, perhaps it can become a good bill. We could talk to experts, who could change our minds, and maybe we could put some new stuff in the bill.
However, no, the Conservatives got rid of the most important committee that would deal with the bills in which they were interested, and that was the justice committee.
I may as well use the words I have heard from the Conservatives. They say that we are lazy. How many times did we say at committee that we would look after the agenda, that there were certain things we wanted to talk about, for example, Election Canada and the in and out scheme? At the same time, we said we were ready to meet on Wednesdays and we could meet on other days as well to discuss bills.
We proposed all kinds of agenda, and I dare any colleague from the Conservative Party to say we did not do that. We have proposed an agenda where we could meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the Conservatives refused.
You threw the chairman out.
Mr. Yvon Godin: My colleague said that we threw the chair out. Yes, because he was partisan. The reason for that is because he allowed the same member to talk only until 1 o'clock and he should have been allowed to talk until 2 o'clock the next day. That is what filibustering is.
However, the Conservatives have a different definition of filibustering. Their way of filibustering is when a person needs to go to the washroom, they let him go. If he is hungry, they let them have his sandwich. When it comes time to go to question period, they let him go and then they let him go home to have a break. That is not filibustering. That is why he was thrown out. It was not the way the PMO wanted it. It was not the way the Conservative whip wanted it.
The way the PMO runs this place is unacceptable to us. We will not vote with the Conservatives to extend the hours when they sat on their bums for the last six months and did nothing.
Mr. Speaker, I know my time is limited so I will try to refrain from going into the hyperbole that we have heard from the hon. member from the NDP. I want to stick to the facts in the limited time that I do have.
The facts are simply these. Since 1982, every single year we have had extended sitting hours at the end of the session before we rise for the summer. I would also point out that in the 26 years since the Standing Orders have been changed to reflect the fact that the government House leader can introduce a motion to extend sitting hours, it has passed. During those 26 years we have had a series of governments, sometimes minority but also a number of majority governments.
The reason that is germane to this conversation, in my estimation, is that in a majority government, that government can basically pass whatever legislation it wants. It has the votes in the House. There is going to be no opportunity for the opposition to really stonewall a bill if the government of the day wants to get it passed. Yet even in a majority situation, during those years of majority governments, the House had extended sitting hours. What does that say? Quite simply it says this. Under no circumstances have I ever seen in the last 26 years any government, whether it be minority or majority, come to the end of the spring session with an opportunity to pass all the legislation that is introduced in that session. That is why we need additional sitting hours.
The opposition is trying to make the case--and let me make it perfectly clear that it is not a reason, it is an excuse--that our government has somehow delayed passage of bills purposely, that we have somehow obfuscated in committees on legislation. That is simply not true. Again, I point out that if a majority government needs extended sitting hours, that means this is something that should be taken seriously. Unfortunately we have a situation here after moving the same motion that has passed for 26 straight years, that every opposition party in this place is now saying, “No, we do not want to sit the additional hours. We do not want to deal with the legislation that is on the government's agenda”.
Why is that? It can only be one of two reasons: one, they want to get out of here early and they do not want to do the work; or two, all they are trying to do is obfuscate and delay with petty politics the government's attempt to bring legislation forward and get it passed in the House. There can be no other reason.
I wish I had more time, but just for a moment, I want to point out a number of inaccuracies that all members of the opposition have brought forward today in this debate in talking about delays in committees. I had been a member of the procedure and House affairs committee. It is true that that committee has not met for a number of months now, but it is simply not true that it was because of delaying tactics by the government. The facts are this. The opposition parties put forward a motion at the procedure and House affairs committee to examine the in and out advertising, what they call, scheme of the Conservative Party in the last election.
Originally the Law Clerk of the House of Commons rendered an opinion and said that the motion is outside the scope and the mandate of the committee, that it should not be presented and should not be received. The chair of the procedure and House affairs committee ruled accordingly. He said, “That motion is out of order”. At that point in time the opposition parties combined to overturn the ruling of the chair.
I would suggest that if the Law Clerk of the House of Commons examines a motion and deems it to be out of order, that ruling should be respected. Our chairperson respected that ruling. He made his ruling according to the opinion of the Law Clerk and yet from there things went straight downhill. The opposition parties disagreed. They overturned the chair's ruling and ultimately kicked the chairperson out of that committee. The only reason was for petty politics.
I have heard a number of times this afternoon the opposition members say that when the Conservative Party was in opposition, it did the same thing with the sponsorship scandal investigation. I beg to differ.
The Auditor General of Canada in her report first identified the problem which ultimately lent itself to the biggest political scandal we have seen in the history of this country. Because the Auditor General, an officer of Parliament, made a report, that gave the public accounts committee the perfect to right to say it wanted to investigate the charges that the Auditor General has levied.
What do we have in this case with procedure and House affairs? There is a dispute between Elections Canada and the Conservative Party. Did the Auditor General reference that? No. Did the Law Clerk say it would be appropriate and in order to investigate that, to discuss that at committee? No. So, we have absolutely apples and oranges here in comparison to what the opposition is trying to say.
An investigation into the sponsorship scandal at the public accounts committee was completely in order. Even the Law Clerk of this House agreed it was because the issue was first raised by the Auditor General in her annual report. The issues that the opposition members are trying to investigate have never been raised in such a fashion. As we all know, the opposition Liberal Party, particularly, has been trying to create scandals where none exist. The only reason the Liberals are trying to delay Parliament's work is because they want to concentrate on imaginary scandals rather than do the nation's business.
I want to say that for the first time in 26 years we have combined opposition parties refusing to sit late to deal with the nation's business. Not only is that disgraceful and unconscionable, eventually the members in opposition will have to answer to the electorate why they do not want to do the work that the nation sent them here to do.