Mr. Speaker, I would like to move the following motion. I move:
|| That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), except for Friday, June 12 and Friday, June 19, 2009, commencing on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 and concluding on Tuesday, June 23, 2009, the House shall continue to sit until 10 p.m.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by stating what might be obvious to folks who watch the proceedings of Parliament closely. By and large, I would have to say that this session of Parliament has been quite amicable and cooperative. I appreciate the efforts by the opposition to help the government get its agenda through Parliament.
As I recently said at a fundraising event for the Children's Bridge Foundation, I was reflecting on this place and reflected that this truly is the house of the common people. I also reflected on that word “common”. I thought that during the time of a minority Parliament, it is important for all of us to reflect on what we have in common: the things that we share as legislators regardless of our partisan differences. Regardless of what it is we want to see for Canada, I do believe very sincerely that all legislators and parliamentarians have the best interests of the country at heart.
I think that it is important that we try to work on those things that we have in common. I believe that there have been many instances in the last five or six months in this place when we have done that. I want to begin my remarks by commending the opposition for oftentimes trying to look beyond partisan differences, look to what we have in common, and actually accomplish things for the people of Canada.
While I am pleased with the progress that we have made thus far, not only as a government but as a Parliament working collectively, there is much more that we can accomplish for Canadians. As I have been saying about this cooperative atmosphere that is sometimes prevalent here, I think that some people who watch the daily proceedings of the House of Commons would actually dispute that.
If one were to watch the 45-minute question period every day, one might be surprised to hear me say that we actually work cooperatively and quite well together. While question period serves an important purpose and is the main focus for the media, no acts are amended, no new laws are created, and no funds for important programs are approved during that period of time.
Today, for example, there are 285 minutes dedicated for government legislation and 60 minutes for private members' business. Lots of time and effort goes into these minutes each day. More importantly, they can also be productive minutes. Thus far this session, our House has passed some 25 bills, including Bill , which restores war veterans allowances to Allied veterans and their families. This required all-party consent and we all agreed that this was in the best interests of not only our veterans but the country.
Bill , our bill to fight organized crime, is currently before committee in the other place. Bill , the agricultural loans bill, will guarantee an estimated $1 billion in loans over the next five years to Canadian farm families and cooperatives. This is all important legislation that we worked together on to further it along the parliamentary agenda.
Our Standing Orders include a specific provision for the extension of sitting hours during the last two sitting weeks in June. In fact, I reflect on my 16 years in this place. It has often been a point of confusion when members, and especially rookie members, look at the calendar and see the last couple of weeks with asterisks beside the dates. They think that those weeks are disposable somehow, but they are not. They are that way because the government has the right to serve, without notice, the motion that I am moving today to extend hours and work into the evening.
At this point in my remarks, I also want to inject the fact that up until quite recently in parliamentary history, the House of Commons sat into the evening for debate almost every night. It has been a relatively new phenomenon that we do not have evening sittings. The only exceptions to that in the recent Parliaments have been for emergency debates or take note debates. Other than that, we do not usually sit in the evenings. It is quite a new phenomenon.
What I am moving today is not something unusual. These rules provide a mechanism to advance government business before members leave Ottawa to work in their constituencies over the summer.
We have a lot of important work to do before the House rises for the summer. After we subtract the three days for opposition supply days and the time for private members' business, we only have 33 hours and 45 minutes remaining to complete our government business before the House rises on the evening of June 23.
Extending the House sitting hours over the next two weeks would allow us to make progress on government bills, such as: Bill , legislation to tackle property theft, which we expect to receive back from the justice committee this week; Bill , the protecting victims from sexual offenders act, which would strengthen the national sex offender registry to provide the police with more effective tools to protect children from sexual predators; Bill , the justice for victims of terrorism act; Bill , which would repeal the faint hope clause in the Criminal Code so that criminals who commit first or second degree murder will no longer be able to apply for early parole; and Bill , the consumer products safety bill, which was reported from committee yesterday. Adopting this bill would protect the health and safety of Canadians by allowing the recall of unsafe consumer products. I urge members to adopt that bill with the utmost speed when we call it for debate later this week.
Other bills we would like to make progress on include: Bill , which cracks down on tobacco marketing aimed at youth, which received unanimous support at second reading and we hope that health committee can report the bill back shortly so that the House can consider its passage before the summer; and Bill , the Colombia free trade bill.
While not unanimous, I am grateful for the support of most members opposite in enabling the House to pass Bill , the Peru free trade bill. Both Bill and Bill would expand market access for Canadian companies at a difficult time. I inject that this is especially important to our farmers who will have new marketing opportunities open up for them because of these two free trade bills.
This is just some of the important work to be done on our government's commitments. It does not take into account additional new legislation that we continue to introduce every week.
I notice the is sitting here and nodding as I relay a number of justice bills. The Minister of Justice has been extremely active in bringing forward a succession of important justice reforms. This is one of the reasons that I ran for Parliament 16 years ago. I know many legislators on both sides of the House hold near and dear to their hearts the importance of protecting victims and their families and of reforming and changing the justice system in our country to ensure that criminals are held accountable for their actions.
My intent regarding this period of extension would be, and I have discussed this with the opposition House leaders and whips, to set a goal each day as to what we wanted to accomplish. When we accomplished that goal, we would adjourn for the day. Even though the motion says that we would sit until 10 o'clock Monday to Thursday, it may not be necessary to sit until 10. We could work co-operatively and collectively together. If we actually achieved our goals that day at 7 o'clock or 7:20 p.m., we would see the clock at 10 and the House would rise. I think that is reasonable.
I am asking for a simple management tool to maximize our progress with the weeks that are left, a little over two weeks. I am not asking for a shortcut. I am not asking to curtail debate. I am proposing that we work a little harder to get the job done. As I said, I believe I am making a reasonable approach of adjourning each day after we meet modest goals. All parties would agree to these goals. This is not a blank cheque. I cannot adjourn the House without support from the opposition, nor can I prevent an adjournment motion from being adopted without opposition support. The motion has co-operation built right into it.
Sitting late in June is part of the normal process, as I referred to earlier. It is one of the procedures required to make Parliament work and be more efficient. According to the Annotated Standing Orders of the House of Commons:
|| Although this Standing Order dates back only to 1982, it reflects a long-standing practice which, in its variations, has existed since Confederation. The practice has meant that in virtually every session since 1867, in the days leading up to prorogation or, more recently, to the summer adjournment, the House has arranged for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance the business still pending.
A motion pursuant to Standing Order 27 has only been refused once and that was last year. Even under the minority government of Paul Martin, the motion had sufficient opposition support to be adopted. There is bound to be some business that one opposition party wants to avoid, but generally there should be enough interest on the part of the opposition to get legislation passed before the summer recess.
The House leader of the official opposition is often on his feet after question period trying to get speedy passage to some of our justice bills. Here is a chance for him, and collectively Parliament, to actually get that done.
The NDP members complain that we accuse them of delaying legislation when all they want to do, or so they say, is put up a few more speakers to a bill. Here again we are giving them the opportunity to do exactly that.
I am therefore seeking the support of all members to extend our sitting hours so that we can complete work on important bills which will address the concerns of Canadians before we adjourn for the summer.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on the extension of hours. I take the at his word. I believe he is sincere when he says he is disappointed that he is not able to speak at greater length. However, I did not see that same degree of disappointment on the face of his colleagues.
I think we can frame the debate this way. As a hockey nation, Canada is seized by the playoffs. We are in the midst of the finals right now, and we are seeing a great series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I know the people in are watching this with great interest, as Marc-Andre Fleury, formerly from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who had a rough night the other night, and Sidney Crosby, from the Cole Harbour area, are still in the thick of things. They are looking forward to seeing the outcome of tonight's game.
I am going to use the hockey analogy. If we look at the last game--and I know the member for West Vancouver is a big hockey nut--with a five to nothing outcome, what the government House leader is asking to do would be similar to Sidney Crosby going to the referee after a five to nothing score at the end of the third period and saying, “Can we play overtime?”.
The die has been cast on government legislation through this Parliament. Pittsburgh did nothing in the first two periods that would warrant any consideration for overtime. Maybe if they had done the work in the earlier periods, they could have pushed for a tie and overtime, but there was nothing done. Certainly there was every opportunity for the government to bring forward legislation, and it missed at every opportunity.
Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said, “You know, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
If there is such importance now in passing this legislation, we can look back, even to last summer, when every Canadian knew, every economist knew and every opinion rendered then was that we were heading for a tough economic downturn and the took it upon himself, with total disregard for his own law that he advocated and passed, that elections are to be held every four years, to drop the writ and go to the polls in the fall.
During that period, the economy continued to sputter, Canadians lost jobs and hardship was brought upon the people of Canada. It was an unnecessary election. Nonetheless, we went to the polls and a decision was rendered by the people of Canada.
We came back to the House. We thought at that time that the government would accept and embrace its responsibility and come forward with some type of measure that would stop the bleeding in the Canadian economy. We understood that there were global impacts. We felt it was the responsibility of the government to come forward with some incentive or stimulus, a program that would at least soften the blow to Canadians who had lost their jobs.
However, it came out with an ideological update, and it threw this House into turmoil and chaos. I have never seen anything like it in my nine years in the House.
It is not too often that we get parties to unite on a single issue. However, the opposition parties came together because they knew that Canadians would not stand for the total disregard for the Canadian economy exhibited by the government through its economic update. Canadians had to make a strong point.
In an unprecedented move, the NDP and the Liberal Party, supported by the Bloc, came together and sent the message to the government that this was not acceptable, that it was going to hurt our country and hurt Canadians. We saw the coalition come together.
There were all kinds of opportunities for the . The decision he made was to see the Governor General and to prorogue Parliament, to shut down the operation of this chamber, to shut down the business of Canada for a seven-week period. For seven weeks there was no legislation brought forward. If we are looking at opportunities to bring forward legislation, I am looking back at the missed opportunities. That was truly unfortunate.
The House leader mentioned that there has been co-operation. I do not argue that point at all. When the budget finally was put together and presented in the House we, as a party, and our leader, thought the responsible thing was to do whatever we could to help as the economy continued to implode and sputter.
Jobs were still bleeding from many industries in this country. We saw the devastation in forestry. We saw the impacts in the auto industry. People's entire careers and communities were cast aside. Time was of the essence, so we thought the responsible thing was to look at the good aspects of the budget and support them. There was ample opportunity to find fault in any aspect of the budget, and it could have had holes poked in it, but we thought the single best thing we could do was to make sure that some of these projects were able to go forward, that some of the stimulus would be able to get into the economy so that Canadians' jobs could be saved and the pain could be cushioned somewhat.We stood and supported the budget, but we put the government on probation at that time.
We continue to see the government's inability to get that stimulus into the economy. The evidence is significant. The FCM, the mayors of the major cities, premiers of provinces, groups advocating for particular projects for a great number of months are looking for the dollars to roll out and they are wondering when that will be. It is just not happening. There is great concern.
We do know that part of the problem is the 's and the government's inability to recognize the severity of the problem. When we look at some of the comments over that period of time that we were thrust in the midst of an election, a TD report, on September 8, 2008, said, “...we believe the global economy is on the brink of a mild recession”. Scotiabank forecasted recessions in both U.S. and Canada.
The was denying it back then and saying there was going to be a small surplus. In November he said we were going to have a balanced budget. Then with the budget, he said maybe there will be a small deficit. With the ability of the Conservatives to calculate and their ability with numbers, we can see how far the government has fallen short, because the week before last we saw that a $50 billion deficit is now anticipated this year.
For the people at home, people who pay attention to these issues, that $50 billion is significant.
Just to get our heads around it, I remember three weeks back there was a very fortunate group from Edmonton who threw their toonies on the table and bought some quick picks and the next day they won $49 million. They won the lottery and that was great. If they were feeling charitable and brought that $49 million to the to apply to the deficit, and then the next day they bought another bunch of tickets and won another $49 million and gave it to the finance minister, if they were to do that day after day, week after week, month after month, and if we factor in that we do not charge interest on this deficit, it would take 20 years to pay off that $50 billion deficit.
That deficit was supposed to be a small one. Two months before that, it was supposed to be a balanced budget; and two months before that, there was supposed to be a small surplus.
We have done our best. We have worked with the government as best we can to try to get that stimulus into the economy, to try to help generate some kind of economic activity within this country so that jobs can be saved and Canadians can continue to work. We know that we have had some successes here. Some 65% of the legislation put forward by the government has been passed.
We have worked with the government. We supported the war veterans allowance and the farm loans bill. Bill , one of the justice bills, came through here the other day and was passed unanimously on a voice vote. We had Bill last night and we had the budget.
Regarding extending the hours, disregarding whether it was incompetence or whatever the political reasons and the rationale were to call the election and to shut down government through the prorogation, there were plenty of opportunities to avoid that and bring forward legislation.
I thought the government House leader was generous in his comments last week when he himself recognized in his comments on the Thursday question:
||...I would like to recognize that, to date at least, there has been good co-operation from the opposition in moving our legislative agenda forward, not only in this chamber but in the other place as well.
That shocked a lot of people on this side of the chamber.
|| I want to thank the opposition for that co-operation.
We have certainly done our part over here, but we have great concern about the extension of the hours and the additional costs with that. We think the legislation that is coming forward now in various stages can be addressed during the normal times here. Certainly on this side of the House we want to make this chamber work. We want to make this Parliament work and will do all in our power to do so.
As of last night, seven of eight bills originating in the House, for which the government wants royal assent by June 23, have been sent to the other place.
Bill , on the Marine Liability Act, passed third reading in this House on May 14. The transportation and communications committee in the other place is holding hearings on that now, so that is fairly far down the road.
Bill , concerning organized crime and the protection of the justice system, passed third reading in the House on April 24, and it is in committee right now in the other place.
Bill just passed third reading. That is on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Bill , passed third reading on May 13, and committees are already being held in the Senate.
We want to try to continue to work in these last days of the session. Certainly we want to continue to nurture and support the relationship on legislation that we can believe in, that is not totally offensive. In a minority Parliament, sometimes all parties have to put a little bit of water in their wine. We are certainly willing to do that. In our past record we have demonstrated that we are willing to do that and we will continue to do so.
However, we have a great deal of difficulty with regard to the extension of hours. We are not sure about the other two opposition parties, but just judging by the questions that were being posed today, I would think they are probably like-minded in this area and they are concerned about this proposal being put forward by the government.
We will be opposing the extension of the hours, and that is how we will vote on this particular issue.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. In a way, it also gives us an opportunity to take stock of the past session. I would say that in our opinion, the whole legislative agenda in recent weeks and months has been very thin, and it is still very thin and in no way warrants extended sitting hours, as the government and the are requesting.
As you know and as the leader mentioned, this is the second year that the government and the have introduced this motion to extend sitting hours in June. Unfortunately, for the second year, we are going to have to say no. It is not because we feel compelled to say no every time. Moreover, the leader pointed out that in the past, even when there was a minority government, the opposition had agreed to support such a motion. But given the current legislative context, what the government is asking us is to give it a blank cheque from now until June 23. I will explain what I mean by that.
At the last two meetings of the House leaders and whips, the handed out proposed schedules up to June 23. Currently, four or five bills are being studied by parliamentary committees, and those studies should be completed shortly. We could see from the proposed schedules that before the end of the session, the government intends to debate new government bills when the House is not dealing with the bills coming back from committees.
What are these new bills the government intends to debate during the extended hours that are not taken up with the work already in progress in committees? This is extremely disturbing and that is where the government wants us to give it a blank cheque, which is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois and, in fact, to all three opposition parties.
I will give an example. I am my party's democratic reform critic. What guarantee do I have that, during the extended hours, when the committee work draws to a close at its own pace—and it will go fairly quickly for most of these bills—the government will not decide to introduce a bill like Bill , which was introduced in the past and was designed to increase the number of members from Ontario and western Canada and reduce Quebec's relative political weight? We would be very much opposed to such a bill. I would also remind hon. members, with respect to the potential reduction of Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons, that the National Assembly had unanimously passed a motion at the time, calling on the federal government to withdraw its bill. So I will certainly not agree to extended sitting hours so that the government can come back again with that idea.
I would also like to point out that we feel it is extremely important that the relative weight of Quebec's members in this House be maintained. Given the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House in November 2006, it is only natural that that nation's weight within an institution like this one should remain the same. It is often argued that the Constitution guarantees the 75 members from Quebec, but that argument is not enough. If we currently make up roughly 24% of this House, then that relative weight must be maintained.
The formula for doing so is still debatable. The number of members from Quebec could be increased proportionally. The remaining members could be distributed differently throughout Canada to ensure that this House will always have 308 members representing the entire country. But the fact remains that this is the sort of bill the government could introduce, taking advantage of the thin legislative agenda and the fact that we will have to fill time.
Consequently, the Bloc Québécois and I are not at all willing to give the government this blank cheque.
In practical terms, as the said, House committees are currently studying five bills. Of those, committees may report on three or four before the House adjourns for the summer. None of the bills is likely to be the subject of much debate or dissent from the opposition as a whole or even any one of the opposition parties. It is not hard to see that they will be passed quickly.
As I said, I am completely open to discussion, if ever the government thinks that a few extra hours would help wrap up a debate on a particular bill on a particular day. That is why, when I asked the official opposition whip a question earlier, I said that the government should approach things from the other direction rather than ask us to give it a blank cheque to extend sitting hours until 10 p.m. every day. The leader suggested that if we were to finish a debate at 8 p.m., we could see the clock as 10 p.m., but I think that it would be more logical to do things the other way around on a case-by-case basis. If the government needs more time to study a bill, it should ask the opposition to extend the sitting hours to debate a specific bill on a specific night.
As I said, unless the government is planning to introduce new bills that have not yet been announced, the fact that there is so little on the legislative agenda makes me worry that the government will have a hard time filling the 11 days we have left, let alone any extended hours. I have a hard time seeing how we will fill the schedule between now and June 23, and thus, once again, I cannot give the government a blank cheque to create an opportunity to debate bills that I am not currently aware of.
The official opposition whip and I have indicated that not only is the legislative agenda extremely thin, but it also fails to address the most critical issue at this time, which is the serious economic crisis we are facing. Consider the following example. Since May 15, when I held a press conference to denounce this thin legislative agenda, by the way, only five bills have been introduced. Three relate to justice, but none propose any solutions to address the economic crisis. We, however, have proposed some solutions.
I would like to show the people watching us here today the reality as it stands in the manufacturing sector in the regions of Quebec. Today I learned that in my riding, Graymont, a company that produces quicklime at its Joliette plant, is suspending production indefinitely.
I would like to quickly read the comments of Mr. Chassat, Graymont's director of operations for eastern Canada:
||The very serious economic downturn in eastern North America is affecting many of our major clients in the steel, metal, and pulp and paper sectors. This has led to a significant decrease in demand...
Naturally, since Graymont is a company that must generate profits or at least break even—we are not talking about a not-for-profit organization—the company will close that plant until demand rebounds.
Not only is it clear that the crisis is worsening, but certain sectors that had previously been spared are going to be affected. Graymont hires workers. Those workers will be unemployed and eventually, their consumer behaviour will slow down. Fewer services will be needed in the Joliette region. Graymont also uses subcontractors who will also lose business. They might eventually be forced to close their doors. Accordingly, it would have been crucial, and it remains crucial, to have a real plan for economic recovery.
It was not just the Bloc Québécois' expectation, but also that of the Conférence régionale des élus du Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which lamented the fact that none of the programs met the needs of the forestry sector. When programs in theory targeted this sector, they were not accessible because it was difficult to meet the bureaucratic criteria established by this government. We are not the only ones who believe that the federal government should have and must come up with a second stimulus plan.
We have made suggestions twice before: the first time in November, before the ideological statement by the , and the second in April. Our proposals deal with both employment insurance, or assistance for workers affected by the crisis, as well as the companies affected. I would like to mention a few of these proposals. First, there was the elimination of the two week waiting period. The Bloc Québécois is very pleased to be able to say that we introduced a bill in this regard, which is currently being studied in committee.
We also proposed an eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all claimants, an increase in benefits from 50% to 60% of earnings and an income support program for older workers. This program existed in 1998 and was cut by the Liberals. Since that time, successive governments, Liberal as well as Conservative, have said they will reinstate it. The said that she established a training pilot project but it is not an income support program for older workers that would allow older workers, over the fairly long term—from a few months to a few years—to bridge the gap between employment and retirement.
We did make several suggestions, but as I said, the government ignored them all. The Bloc Québécois would not be at all offended if the government decided to act on one or more of those suggestions. With respect to businesses, I want to add that we made a suggestion that would apply to all manufacturing sector businesses. A Corvée investissement program would enable the government to finance up to one-fifth of the cost of introducing new technologies. In the 1980s, Quebec's Corvée habitation program produced very good results for housing, and we took that as our inspiration. We suggested putting $4 billion into such a fund, which could generate investments worth about $16 billion if the total amount were used. The government wanted nothing to do with the idea.
I will raise a few other points and then get back to the issue of extending hours. The government has heard from us about loan guarantees and will continue to do so in question period. It is totally unacceptable for the forestry sector not to have access to loan guarantees. I will not get into the rhetoric spouted by the ministers from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. There are programs, but people are telling us that they do not qualify for those programs. So that means that we have ineffective, non-existent programs for people who are going through hard times.
As to refundable research and development tax credits, the whole industry wants this measure, which would enable businesses that are not making a profit to continue investing so they can be ready to compete when the economy begins to recover, which we hope will be as soon as possible.
I will conclude with two other examples of measures, such as the use of wood in the renovation and construction of federal buildings. I would remind the House of a very important figure. The assistance given to the auto sector is equivalent to $650,000 per job. No one is questioning the relevance of that assistance, although we would have liked to see more conditions attached. In comparison, the assistance given to the forestry sector amounts to $1,000 per job. In other words, the auto sector received 650 times more assistance than the forestry sector. We think this is completely unfair. Solutions must therefore be found for the forestry sector. We also suggested support for the communities affected by this very serious crisis.
Thus, we have seen some ideas concerning how the government should respond to the number one concern of Quebeckers and Canadians, namely, the economic crisis, as well as the insecurity they feel about their employment, their income and their families' futures.
As I said, nothing has been done, and the five bills that have been introduced since May 15, 2009, related to justice and public safety. In that regard, I must admit, the Conservatives have been very productive and I imagine the is proud of that.
The problem is that, more often than not, the measures proposed have been populist measures that might interest a certain conservative following ideologically, but that are ineffective when it comes to maintaining a high level of security and well-being in Canadian and Quebec society. We are not questioning the importance of improving the justice system, but what the government is proposing has been more or less akin to aggressive therapy, rather than true modernization of the system.
Since Bill was introduced on May 8, 2009, no other bills have been introduced to help the thousands of workers who have lost their jobs. No bills have been introduced to help businesses in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which have been so seriously affected by this crisis. None of those bills contained any measures to help regional economies and communities diversify. In fact, none of those bills would suggest that the government is aware of the magnitude of this economic crisis. Of course it is extremely difficult to understand the government's indifference.
However, now that we have heard the ' comments, we perhaps have a better understanding of the Conservatives' political culture. We also see that the main concern of this minister is to boost her career and that the concerns of patients who do not have access to the isotopes or who are worried about the shortage are secondary. We also know that she finds the issue to be sexy. It is not the first time we hear such talk. Members will recall that, during the listeriosis crisis, the made some comments that were quite shocking.
This lack of empathy and the government's indifference, reflected in its legislative agenda, make it impossible to accept the motion tabled by the because—and this is the crux of the matter—they are asking the opposition to give them a blank cheque. By extending sitting hours we would have absolutely no idea of what we would be debating. It certainly would not be the legislation before us, which can be announced.
For example, this morning they announced a bill regarding a park, which does not pose a problem. In my opinion, after reading the bill, the opposition parties will quickly agree to passing the bill in the shortest possible timeframe. This type of bill does not pose a problem and does not require the extension of sitting hours.
As was the case last year, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons did not convince us of the usefulness of extending sitting hours and that is why we are refusing. The opposition or the Bloc Québécois do not oppose extending sitting hours when the time is to be used productively, but they do not see the purpose of extending sitting hours just to pass the time or, even worse, to study surprise bills.
As I mentioned, there is also no guarantee that new bills will not be introduced, perhaps with the complicity of the Liberals, to ram things down Quebec's throat. We cannot run the risk, by extending the hours, of granting time for bills about which we know nothing.
Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence to suggest that the government would use extended sitting hours to deal with the economic crisis and help people who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for employment insurance because the criteria are too restrictive. Nor have we seen anything to suggest that these bills would help the forestry and manufacturing sectors. Not only do we have no guarantees, but we have not heard even the faintest suggestion that the government is interested in helping.
In closing, if the government makes specific requests to extend sitting hours to study specific bills at specific times, the Bloc Québécois will be open to talking about it. I will be open to talking about it. But right now, with the legislative agenda before us, I think that adopting the motion put forward by the would amount to giving the Conservative government carte blanche, and that is the last thing that the Bloc Québécois and Quebec want to give this government.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the NDP to participate in this debate which is about extending the hours of the House.
We heard the government House leader rise earlier and move a motion under Standing Order 27(1) to extend the hours of the House for the remaining 10 sitting days of the House, although he excluded the Fridays. So that is what we are here debating today.
Certainly, first off, I will be the first to acknowledge that the government has an opportunity to do this. We know that on the calendar, as the government House leader pointed out, there is a series of dates where this is a permissible and enabling thing that can be brought forward under the House rules to extend the hours of the House.
However, it has to be done by the will of the House. It cannot be unilaterally imposed by the government unless it is in a majority and it can get something through, but certainly in a minority Parliament situation, which is what we face today, that opportunity to extend the hours of the House has to be done with the co-operation and with the support of the opposition, or at least part of the opposition.
Therefore, what we are really debating today is whether or not there is merit in the government's motion to extend those hours. I have to say that listening to the speeches today both from the government and from the opposition members, there is a genuine reflection and a voice about whether or not there is merit, whether or not those operating hours should be extended.
It is not something that should be done lightly. The government House leader, in his remarks earlier at the beginning of the debate, said that the purpose of seeking the extension of the hours was “to set a goal each day of what we”, and that means the government, “want to accomplish”.
Then he talked about it as being a management tool. On the surface, using that very sort of diplomatic language of setting a goal each day of what the government wants to accomplish, we have to examine that and decide whether or not it is a legitimate thing that the government is requesting.
I think one has to look at that in the context of what has actually taken place in the House in this second session of the 40th Parliament, and whether or not the government has actually used the management tools that it has wisely and properly, and whether now that we are down to the last 10 days, it should be granted that opportunity to extend the hours of the House.
In speaking to that, I am looking at the merit of that request that the government has put forward this day. I want to point out some of the numbers of what we have actually dealt with. I think it is important in deciding whether or not we are now in a situation where we should be looking at extended hours.
We have seen something like 38 bills introduced by the government in this second session. If we take away the bills that have special rules, like the supply bills, then we are down to about 34 bills. Of those 34 bills, 22 have actually passed through the House of Commons. That works out to about 65%.
In actual fact, the government has accomplished a lot of its agenda already and there has been the passage of a fair amount of legislation that it has introduced.
What is also interesting is that of the bills that have been approved, about 20% of them were actually done in a fast tracked way. Some went through in a few moments, all stages of a bill; some went through in one day; some went through multiple stages in a day; about 20%.
I think that is very significant. That happened because there was discussion among the House leaders at our regular meetings and there was a sense of co-operation about what it was we thought we could take on, what matters were urgent, or they were basically things that we agreed with and we could agree that they should go through in a much faster way.
That is a significant thing. Twenty per cent of the government's bills have actually gone through the House in that kind of fast tracked way.
We know that now with the remaining 10 sitting days there are seven bills that are still in the House. Actually six of them are justice or public safety bills and probably five of them require not an extensive debate.
There are a couple of bills, some of which have been noted here today, that are very problematic certainly for the NDP and other opposition parties. If those bills come forward, we in the NDP are going to do everything we can to ensure that they are fully debated. In fact, we will try to defeat them.
The reality is that with 10 sitting days left, the hours we have for debate and what is on the legislative agenda, and as my colleague from the Bloc just pointed out a few moments it is actually a pretty thin legislative agenda, it is very likely that most of the bills that remain will go through the House and there will not be any kind of holdup.
There are other pieces of legislation that are very problematic. Certainly for us in the NDP, one of the bills that we are most concerned about and will do everything we can to defeat it is the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, Bill . In fact, we were very disappointed when Bill , regarding the free trade agreement between Canada and Peru, received approval, with the NDP voting against it, just a few days ago.
I will mention, in the last day or two, the violence that has taken place in Peru against indigenous people, where people have been oppressed and murdered by government forces. It has been absolutely horrific. Yet, that bill went through.
I want to put on the record that if the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement bill comes forward, which the government to this point has held back and put at the bottom of its agenda, the NDP caucus will be fighting it tooth and nail. Every single one of our members will stand to debate that bill to point out and expose what a bad trade agreement it is. We take that very seriously.
However, those are the exceptions. Most of the bills before us are bills that will not be contentious but will require debate.
I want to make the point that I find it very ironic that time and time again we have heard the government House leader or other ministers stand and allege that particularly the NDP is holding up legislation. This has really floored me. I have spoken to some of the exceptions, but on most of those occasions we were talking about debating a bill at, say, third reading for a day. Even debating a bill for a day is somehow now characterized as holding up legislation and a delaying tactic. I find this quite astounding.
In parliamentary history, in terms of the business we do, we are here to debate legislation. We are here to go through it in a serious fashion and decide whether we support it in principle, whether it requires amendments, to take it through committee, and bring it back to the House. To debate a piece of legislation at second reading, third reading or report stage for a day or less than that is certainly not a delaying tactic.
I feel very offended that the government has chosen to take the line that anything debated more than a couple of hours is somehow a stalling and delaying tactic. That is what we are sent here to do, to represent our constituents, provide the opinions and perspectives of the people of Canada, and debate legislation that has enormous impacts on the lives of not only Canadians but sometimes globally, as we saw with the Canada-Peru agreement.
NDP members are not about to forfeit their duty and responsibility to debate that legislation in a fulsome way and make sure that all of the issues we believe are important are put forward in the House of Commons, in the Canadian Parliament. That is what we were elected to do and we take it very seriously.
I will go back to the issue of the government saying that this is a management tool and that it is being ever so thorough in using it. The government says that it wants to set a goal each day to do what it wants to accomplish. It really is a blank cheque. The government wants to have its cake and eat it too, instead of using the practice we have used continually, a practice that has worked relatively well.
The government House leader acknowledged in his opening remarks that there had been co-operation with the opposition parties, that there had been agreement on any number of items. Now we see this blank cheque approach. The government will make a unilateral decision and on any given day over the next 10 days, we will discuss this bill and that bill. The government will keep the debate going until 10 o'clock at night and we will not have any input into that. It will be a government decision.
If the Conservatives see that as a management tool, then it begs the question as to how they have managed their political and legislative agenda overall. If we look at the way they manage their business, we see quite a different picture.
We are talking about a government that prorogued the House on two occasions and killed its own legislation because of short-term political expediency. We saw it just before December. The government shut down Parliament in reaction to the opposition parties working together to represent the public interest with respect to what we needed to do with regard to the recession. That was very undemocratic. From the Conservative point of view, that was an incredibly successful management tool, but it was not in the interests of Parliament or the Canadian people.
At what is now the eleventh hour in the second session of the 40th Parliament, the Conservatives need to have extended hours for debate. They have to make their case for it. In listening to the government House leader today, I do not think they have done that. They have shown us that they want to go into overdrive by using this so-called management tool to suit their own purposes. They need to recognize that they are in a minority Parliament, where co-operation should be sought and where discussion can produce a positive result.
The NDP reacts very negatively to the idea that extended hours are needed at this time, not that at some other occasion they might be needed, but that opportunity is there.
The government has failed to make the case that it needs extended hours for the next 10 days to get through the very few bills that are left. If the Conservatives are thinking of bringing back some of the other bills like the Canada-Colombia free trade bill or the matrimonial real property bill, the NDP will fight them tooth and nail on those bills. We are not prepared to let those bills come forward. They have the choice of what they want to put on the order of business each day, but they know we will fight them.
We have come to the conclusion that the motion is simply not warranted. It is that straightforward. The business we have before us can be conducted. A number of these bills deal with justice and public safety issues. The government has been trotting out these little boutique bills one Criminal Code clause at a time. There has probably been a dozen of these bills. If there had been discussion, a number of those bills could have been brought forward in an omnibus bill. The government decided, again based on its political agenda, to bring in one bill at a time, so it could make a little showcase. This is really all the government has.
The Conservatives have completely broken down when it comes to dealing with the recession. They have even failed getting their economic stimulus package into local communities. They have completely denied the will of Parliament by refusing to act on motions on EI, which came from the NDP, or on credit cards and consumers protection.
Instead, what have the Conservatives done? Their management tools, their agenda has been to move bills out one at a time to take up an inordinate amount of time in debating them. If they had wanted to, they could have had some serious discussion about how to package some of them. I know our justice critic would have been open to such a suggestion and we would have taken it seriously.
If we consider that five of the six remaining bills could have been dealt with in a different way, then we can begin to see the government really does not have a case at all. It makes one wonder why the Conservatives would even bring forward this motion.
At the meeting of the House leaders we discussed it and I think the Conservatives had an inkling it probably would not be approved. Obviously they have some kind of political agenda. Either they want to bring something forward and try to ram it through or maybe they just think it is the political optics. However, we have to examine the motion in its real substance.
As I pointed out today, if we seriously look at the legislative agenda that remains, it is very clear the Conservatives are in a good position to receive support and to get the remaining bills through in the House. Therefore, why would we consider the extension of hours?
The New Democrat members of the House take our work very seriously. Whenever there have been motions in the House to rise early or to adjourn early, we have been the party to always oppose that. For us, this is not about saying that we do not want to be here. We are here in our seats and we are in committees.
If we look at the members of the House and the activity that goes on, we will not find a harder working caucus, even though we only have one member on each parliamentary committee. Our members work hard to bring forward initiatives. Whether it is on EI, or on arts and culture, or agriculture, or food safety, the NDP members initiate those items. This issue is not about whether we are here or not. We are here. We dedicate ourselves 100% to doing our public business, working for constituents and raising these very important issues about the economy, about what is hitting working people, about the unemployment, pensions and the travesty of the EI system. We do that here day after day, whether it is in question period, or in committees, or in meetings with delegations.
We have no problem with the principle of sitting late. Whether it is for take note debates or emergency debates, we participate in all of that and we do so fully and with a great measure of substance.
However, that does not escape the need to examine the motion for extended hours. We have come to the conclusion that it is a vacuous motion. It is not built on a rationale based on the business before us. The government simply has not made the case. If it had and if there was that imperative, that rationale, we would probably see a different response.
The practice of looking at each piece of legislation brought forward at the House leaders' meeting, involving our critics, and discussing whether there is agreement to move more quickly has worked. Why would we not continue to do that in the last 10 sitting days?
We see no reason to extend the hours, so we will vote against the motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to what I believe to be a very important motion to extend the sitting hours to allow all parliamentarians, not just members on the government side but all parliamentarians, to debate legislation brought forward by this government.
Before I begin, let me just make some comments for the hon. House leader of the NDP, a member whom I respect very much and with whom I disagree fundamentally on most issues, but that is to be expected. I have just a point of clarification.
The House leader from the NDP made mention in her presentation that she believed that at the House leaders meetings the government had an inkling the opposition was not going to support this motion. We really had no such inkling. The New Democratic House leader is quite correct that at the House leaders meetings on two or three occasions we brought forward the possibility of this motion being introduced. That is quite correct, but we had absolutely no indication from any member of the opposition that the opposition was going to oppose this.
In fact, we felt that this motion would go through fairly quickly because, as the government House leader pointed out in his presentation, only one time in recent history has a motion such as this one been rejected. Even in minority governments past, when the government of the day brought forward a motion to extend the sitting hours, it almost invariably passed. Opposition parties, during those configurations of government, understood that the government certainly has a right to bring forward a motion to extend the sitting hours to allow further debate on the government's legislative initiatives.
That is all we are saying here. We have a number of pieces of legislation that we feel deserve further debate. I have not heard one member of the opposition oppose that notion. Everyone who has risen today has said that he or she believes certain pieces of legislation initiated by the government received speedy passage because they had all-party support, but also that there were certain pieces of legislation which certain parties in the opposition opposed and those bills deserved further debate.
On one hand, the opposition parties are saying, “We disagree with this piece of legislation and we think it should be debated fully”, yet on the other hand, they are denying the opportunity to do just that. It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever why they would argue both sides of a very fundamental question.
Clearly, the government of the day, regardless of what political stripe that government may be, will from time to time introduce legislation that will not find concurrence within Parliament. The government of the day has its own political agenda. We certainly are no different. We will be introducing pieces of legislation that we feel are very important for Canadians. We are not under any illusion that everything we introduce will be accepted and agreed upon by opposition members, but we do expect that at least we will have the ability to extend hours to further debate on those pieces of legislation before we rise for the summer and go home to our constituencies.
We have heard through the media and in this House on several occasions members from each of the three opposition parties say, “We think we need further debate on this”. They chastise the government for trying to rush pieces of legislation through this House without proper debate, yet when we give them the opportunity to engage in meaningful and fulsome debate, what do they do? They vote against it. They say, “No, we do not want to extend the sitting hours. We are denying the opportunity of Canadians to listen to a fulsome debate, to understand more clearly the position of each of the parties in this Parliament”.
All I can possibly conjure up from these disjointed and contradictory arguments is that the reasons the opposition parties give for their opposition to our motion are not reasons at all. They are excuses. I would point out to all members in this place that there is a huge difference between a reason and an excuse.
The opposition parties, in my humble opinion, are merely making excuses. The reason they are opposing this motion is they do not, number one, want to sit into the evening to debate these issues, and number two, they are somewhat timid about putting forward their positions in a fulsome debate on some of the more “controversial” pieces of legislation.
I can understand their timidity because on several of the pieces of legislation which we brought forward and the opposition members oppose, they have no case. I would argue that the majority of Canadians, if they were able to listen to these debates, would readily agree with the government's position and not that of the opposition members. I can think of no other reason that the opposition would deny extended sitting hours when in fact it has been commonplace in parliaments to do so.
As the pointed out quite effectively, it does not mean that on each sitting day that we extend hours would we have to sit until 10 p.m., not at all. If the opposition parties are sincere in their comments that they want to work with the government and pass pieces of legislation that they do agree with, we could be out of here within minutes of sitting into the evening. The government House leader has offered the opportunity to debate only one piece of legislation per evening. If that piece of legislation came to a successful conclusion, at that point the extended sitting would expire. We are not even expecting opposition members to interrupt their evening's festivities by sitting here until 10 o'clock each night, far from it. If we achieved a successful conclusion of the legislation introduced for that evening's sitting, we would conclude the sitting as soon as the legislation had been successfully passed. I cannot think of a more generous offer that any government could make.
I recall in previous parliaments when we sat into the evening, when opposition parties agreed with the government motion to extend the sitting hours, we would sit until 10 p.m. come heck or high water. Regardless of what legislation was introduced, if we passed one piece, we would go on to another. We are being far more generous than that in our offer to the opposition parties, yet we do not see any acceptance.
Again, I can only conclude the obvious, that there are no relevant or valid reasons to deny our motion, only excuses. It is getting toward the end of a long parliamentary session; we all know that. In a few short weeks we will be out of here, but this is our opportunity as parliamentarians to show all Canadians that we are sincere and serious in our desire to take the due time necessary to debate legislation which is important to Canadians.
I humbly request all of my opposition colleagues to vote in favour of this motion.