That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister shall not advise the Governor General to prorogue any session of any Parliament for longer than seven calendar days without a specific resolution of this House of Commons to support such a prorogation.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
The government, after promising Canadians a new day in Ottawa, has been less accountable to Parliament than any other in memory. It has ignored motions of Parliament, restricted access to information like never before, and even denied legal parliamentary orders from the House to share documents with members of Parliament that are important to the public interest. Enough is enough.
We must clearly re-establish the basic principles of our democratic system. The principal of ministerial accountability is critical. This means that the must be accountable to Parliament. And being accountable starts with ensuring that the cannot abuse his powers: first and foremost, the power to lock the doors of Parliament and halt the work of those who were elected by the people to represent them and speak for them.
That is the purpose of our motion.
In our democracy the people are in charge. Our appears to have forgotten about that. Their elected Parliament answers to Canadians and the Prime Minister answers to Parliament. It is not the other way around.
Two months ago, thousands of Canadians gathered on the lawn just outside of this place to condemn the latest prorogation. At that rally, we heard from Arlene Plante. She had worked for Nortel for many years. She stands to lose most of her long-term disability income. She said she was going to be destitute, even as these Nortel bosses were giving themselves huge bonuses. We could have done something about that right here in the House of Commons, except the doors were locked by our .
Proroguing Parliament meant that members could not even consider our legislation to protect workers like Arlene who were losing so much in these employer bankruptcies.
Proroguing Parliament meant that we could not hold the government accountable to hundreds of thousands of Canadians who were exhausting their EI benefits and were falling into deep poverty and the welfare trap. We could not hold it accountable to the young people all across Canada who wanted to see Canada play a real leadership role on climate change. They were disappointed with the actions, or non-actions, of our government.
We must ensure that this kind of thing simply cannot happen again. That is what our motion ensures.
Are there times when the power of prorogation can be used appropriately? Of course.
Traditionally, a government that has come to the end of its legislative agenda can use prorogation to set a new agenda. What about the two prorogations requested by and granted to the in the space of one year? Do they stand up to scrutiny? Were they in line with the principles of our democratic system? Most certainly not. Quite the opposite.
These last two prorogations were an abuse of power by the of Canada. These last two prorogations were pursued for narrow partisan interests, specifically to avoid accountability to the representatives who had been elected by a majority of Canadians. That is wrong.
Fifteen months ago, the government faced imminent defeat for failing to respond to the economic crisis, so it prorogued Parliament. Three months ago, the government faced tough questions over a cover-up of possible government involvement in rendering prisoners to torture.
Both prorogations had nothing to do with exhausting the legislative agenda. In fact, dozens of bills remained on the docket that members of Parliament were working on very hard.
Both prorogations had everything to do with the running from his accountability to this place.
Both defied the will of the elected members and denied members the opportunity to express that will in a vote, confidence or otherwise.
Kings have been inclined, in past centuries, to exercise such absolute power, to abuse power in exactly that way, and that is precisely why elected legislatures have insisted upon their rights to hold prime ministers, their cabinets and their executives to account. It is fundamental to our democratic system.
Our is not a king and it is time he understood that. It would appear that he does not get it. He has abused his powers and it must not happen again. That is what our motion ensures.
Our motion states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister shall not advise the Governor General to prorogue any session of any Parliament for longer than seven calendar days without a specific resolution of this House of Commons to support such a prorogation.
This is a concrete, reasonable and constructive proposal. We believe that this proposal takes into consideration the opinions of the members of the three opposition parties. I would like to thank the other two parties for their help. I look forward to hearing their contributions to this debate.
Our motion would allow the to recalibrate the legislative agenda, but it would also prevent him from using this power to shirk his responsibilities to the people's elected representatives.
It is a concrete, constructive and reasonable proposal that reflects what hundreds of thousands of protesters called for a few weeks ago, which is that Parliament's doors remain open.
Here is what Mark Walters of Queen's law faculty argues about the convention of prorogation:
--the links between the prime minister, the supremacy of the House of Commons, and in turn the sovereignty of the people, can’t be forgotten...There is good reason to think that a prime minister who uses the convention to undermine rather than uphold the supremacy of elected members of Parliament has violated the convention.
The has said as much himself when he was in opposition. He said that any prime minister had the moral obligation to respect the will of the majority in the House of Commons. Either he did not mean it then or he has completely forgotten about it now, or having power has so influenced his perception that he has decided to abandon any sense of responsibility to the democratic process. I fear that it is the latter and that is why we have to bring forward such a motion.
Passing today's motion will inform governors general that the people, through this House, now intend to express their will on significant prorogations through a clear vote.
Passing today's motion will honour the call of hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast who gathered in person or online, at rallies and in our neighbourhoods, and who continue to write to us every week.
Passing today's motion will make Parliament work for the people.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to our motion.
The most pivotal word in the motion is “abuse”. We are not talking about denying a prime minister the right to prorogue. As my leader has pointed out, we accept that it is an important part of parliamentary democracy and it is used quite often in appropriate ways. In fact, in my own home province of Ontario there recently was a prorogation. I suspect there was a plan for a little longer one earlier and it was changed but I am no longer in the Ontario legislature and I do not want to inject myself into its politics. However, my point is that it was a four day prorogation, which is consistent with what we are talking about.
I did not hear a single constituent or anyone else where I went complaining about what happened at Queen's Park. There were the usual gripes. People were mad at the government for doing this, that and the other, but there was not a peep about it being unfair, undemocratic or unacceptable.
As to other governments, I was part of one too that prorogued for an awfully long time. However, under our change here, there should at the very least have been a motion on the floor. We should not kid ourselves. A majority government will win a vote 10 times out of 10. It would really be a pro forma matter in terms of informing the public through bringing it to the House by a majority government.
More important, at a time like this, when the has a minority government and has considerably less than 40% of the support of Canadian people, he feels that he is entitled to wield 100% of the power 100% of the time. That is not on.
We would not have prevented the from exercising his prerogative under the Constitution. I would liken this to an idea the government itself has been floating around for some time in terms of the Senate. I am not saying that this plan would work but it is what the government has been looking at and talking about. Rather than changing the Constitution, which we know would be all but impossible, the attempt was to change the rules underneath, what happens prior to the going to the Governor General.
Right now the can consult with whomever he wants or no one. He is not required to consult with anyone. The Prime Minister gives his Senate suggestions to the Governor General and asks for them to be considered in the polite fashion that we do around here. What the Prime Minister wants the Prime Minister gets.
We are talking about the same thing when it comes to prorogation. Prior to the prime minister of the day going to the Governor General, if it is going to be more than seven calendar days, we in this House who run our own House on behalf of the people, the supreme House with supreme power, would have an opportunity to deliberate. In a minority, a government might win but in a majority it would always win.
This does not affect the Constitution because the Constitution kicks in when we talk about the prime minister's prerogative to visit the Governor General and give whatever advice he or she wishes. What happens before then is pretty much silent. We are saying that we must build the silence because we have an abusive situation. If anyone doubts whether it was abusive or what the purpose was, we should remember what Mr. Tom Flanagan, a close confidant to the , said:
I think his problem is that the government's talking points really don't have much credibility. Everybody knows that Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry and the trouble is that the government doesn't want to explain why that was necessary.
To be fair to Mr. Flanagan, he did go on to say that he thought it was defensible, but publicly he said that the reason for the prorogation was “to shut down the Afghan inquiry”. That is exactly the allegation that our leader has made from day one when prorogation was announced, which is that the government was hiding from Parliament and hiding from the Canadian people. Did the people respond?
We held a rally in Gore Park in my hometown of Hamilton and it was packed. What was really instructional was the number of young people who got this in one. They were not going to accept that this was some kind of parliamentary nicety or that they should mind their business and not worry because the and his folks would take care of everything. No, the young people understood that the government was running away and that it was abusing power, particularly in a minority situation.
All we are saying, which is totally non-radical, is that a prorogation should be no longer than seven calendar days. If it were, as Premier McGuinty did, a legitimate prorogation to shut down the House for a few days to provide a gap between the original session and the new one and to tee things up for a throne speech, that would make perfect sense. Nothing would encumber the prime minister of the day from continuing to do exactly that. The only difference would be that if it were to be more than seven days, it would need to be brought to the House, and, as my has pointed out, the House would decide whether that door gets padlocked, not one person unilaterally who does not even have a majority mandate.
We have not heard from the other opposition parties in terms of their positions. I know they had some other thinking about flipping it around and saying that the prime minister must come to the House under certain circumstances. However, that gets awfully convoluted and detailed and sets itself up for further loopholes and abuse down the road, which is why we have gone about it this way.
We are not trying to take away the prime minister's power or to change the Constitution through the back door. All we are trying to do is to ensure this House gets its rightful role in a decision that is so imperative, because, quite frankly, if the House is not sitting, then the people's representatives are not doing the job that they were elected to do, which is to meet as a House of Commons to consider the people's business.
When we know, as we do from Mr. Flanagan and others, that the government was just running and hiding, then we need to do something. We need to put in place a rule that makes it very clear that if it is more than one calendar week, it needs to come back to the House. We must remember that the government played games with this around a year ago.
Under our system, the people do not directly elect the prime minister or the government. They elect their representative in their riding. When we all meet, we decide by a confidence vote who the prime minister will be and, once that person has achieved the confidence of the House, then he or she can act as the prime minister. However, that authority did not directly come from the ballot box. The authority to set up house at 24 Sussex is decided by the MPs in the House.
The reason we do not see that so often is that when we are in a majority, it is a given who will win every vote, so there is no big buildup to the confidence question. It looks as if there was a direct election of the executive council but there was not.
This House is supreme and we are asking all members, but particularly our opposition colleagues, to join with us in making a significant but relatively simple change that would bring democracy to this place that the Canadian people demand. That is why we have this motion here and hopefully it will carry.
Madam Speaker, at the outset, I would like to inform the Chair that I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from .
It is with mixed thoughts that I rise to address the motion proposed by the NDP. Certainly, I am disappointed that the opposition would exhaust precious time in the House of Commons on something that it is perfectly aware has always been a standard and routine process, rather than choosing to debate the real challenges facing our nation, such as the economy and jobs.
However, I also view this as an opportunity to reiterate that there is nothing unusual about this Parliament, in terms of how it has conducted itself. Contrary to the opposition's allegations, prorogation is in fact a normal part of the parliamentary process. It has played an important role in supporting a healthy democratic system since Confederation. It is a routine, constitutionally legitimate process that has occurred some 105 occasions in the 143 years of our nation's history.
It is also well established by constitutional convention that the Governor General prorogues Parliament on the advice of the , and there are practical reasons for this.
Prorogation plays an important role in the effective functioning of our parliamentary and democratic systems. When circumstances change, as has been the case with the serious economic situation we have encountered, it is perfectly normal that the government would want to pause to take stock and to consult Canadians. The prorogation of Parliament provides that necessary time, because the business of government does not end when Parliament is not sitting. In this case, the government used the time available to look carefully at our agenda and plan the next stages of our economic recovery.
In the past year, our government has introduced and implemented an important economic action plan, including a series of stimulus measures, to address the extraordinary economic circumstances brought on by the worldwide recession. As a result of these measures, 2010 is shaping up to be a more optimistic year for Canadians. We are beginning to see a fragile recovery taking place.
But our economy is not yet out of the woods, and that is where the prorogation period played a key role. We now have a plan in place to complete implementation of our economic action plan, to return to balanced budgets once the economy has fully recovered, and to build the economy of the future.
I would point out that on average since Confederation, there have been three or four throne speeches launching a new session per Parliament. Some Parliaments have heard as many as six or seven throne speeches.
Prorogation is a measure used by governments of all political stripes, both at the federal and provincial level. In both the 28th and the 30th Parliaments, former Prime Minister Trudeau prorogued Parliament three times.
At the provincial level, two provinces, Alberta and Ontario, have prorogued their legislative assemblies already this year.
The opposition alleges that the second session of the 40th Parliament was ended prematurely. However, it was consistent with typical sessions, which have lasted roughly one year on average.
Outside of sessions that include an election call, the average number of sitting days per session is 109 days. By contrast, there were 128 sitting days in the second session of this 40th Parliament.
Another myth the opposition has invented is that prorogation has resulted in a great deal of lost time in the House. On the contrary, in Parliaments where prorogation has occurred since the 33rd Parliament, days lost per Parliament have averaged about 20 days. The number of sitting days lost during this most recent prorogation was 22 days, which is only slightly higher. By contrast, when former Prime Minister Chrétien prorogued Parliament for the second time in the 37th Parliament, the number of sitting days lost was 25 days.
The final myth the opposition has attempted to spread is that this government has avoided its responsibility to be accountable to the House of Commons and, through the House, to the people of Canada.
Clearly, nothing could be further from the truth. We have put our agenda before Parliament in the Speech from the Throne. There is nothing stopping the opposition from voicing its confidence or its lack of confidence in our government.
With all the issues and problems facing Canadians, what keeps the NDP leader up at night? Is it the economy? Is it jobs? No, it is prorogation. In fact, the first thing the leader of the NDP did when Parliament opened was ask for emergency debate on prorogation.
The Speaker politely and somehow with a straight face refused to grant such a debate because it did not meet the criteria for an emergency. Today is the NDP's first supply day, the only supply day it gets in this supply period, the NDP's only opportunity to set the debate in this House, and what did it choose? The NDP chose to debate prorogation.
It is not just the NDP that is obsessing over prorogation. The and the leader of the Bloc are also fixated on it. This NDP motion accomplishes nothing. A resolution of the House would have no effect on the powers of the Governor General or the . Likewise the Leader of the Opposition is proposing to change the Standing Orders to implement a similar measure, yet as with this motion, a change to the Standing Orders would also have no effect on the powers of the Governor General or the Prime Minister.
What is much more unsettling about this issue is that the opposition parties have resurrected their coalition in order to address it. Their ambitions have turned from taking power to diminishing power and once again they want to do this without an election. They want to use their majority to change the constitutional powers of the government.
For a moment, just imagine a majority government proposing to limit the constitutional powers of the opposition because it did not like how members conducted themselves. Imagine the reaction. The keeps ducking his constitutional responsibilities, some would argue, by avoiding confidence motions, but we are not proposing to take that ability away from him. He is free to exercise that prerogative when he sees fit. The same holds true for the 's prerogatives. Both opposition and government have specific responsibilities, and they have the prerogatives to carry them out.
I want to wrap up by highlighting the rampant hypocrisy of the Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition of the prorogation outrage. They cannot even live up to their own standard. They are reacting to a mechanism they have all used and supported as standard procedure in legislatures across Canada. It is a longstanding normal practice to end and begin sessions. As I noted earlier, we know that on average at the federal level sessions have lasted a year. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have prorogued a session less than a year into that session.
There are no NDP and Bloc prorogation statistics at the federal level, thankfully, but there are provincial records. When René Lévesque was leader of the Parti Québécois, sister party of the Bloc, and premier of Quebec in the 31st legislature, he prorogued, get this, five times, and he prorogued four times in the 32nd legislature. The average length of a session under René Lévesque was 10 months.
The hon. member for , who is now a Liberal, was recently crowned the king of proroguing in the press. When he was NDP premier of Ontario, he used prorogation three times to end sessions of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and he prorogued for much longer periods of time than this Parliament's recent prorogation.
The current NDP government in Manitoba has been in power for six legislatures and prorogued 23 times. Its 35th legislature had six sessions in it, and a number had five. The average duration of a session of the NDP government in Manitoba was 9.7 months.
We have all three members of the coalition who do not meet their own standard for prorogation, and the hypocrisy does not end there. The made such a fuss about the prorogation of the second session. He put on a big show in front of the cameras. He held press conferences outside an empty chamber and had his members conducting phony committee hearings. In the National Post yesterday, Don Martin noted that just eight sitting days after declaring Parliament too pivotal to prorogue, the Liberal leader embarked on a week-long national tour, and one-third of his caucus did not even bother to show up for work. They made such a big fuss about showing up when the House was not sitting, but they disappeared shortly after the House started.
This government will not be distracted by the opposition's fixation with partisan games, their attempts to gain political favour with Canadians by circulating myths about a longstanding parliamentary procedure—
Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague, the government House leader, for his remarks preceding mine.
Again, some of my remarks will underscore those made by my colleague, but I do want to set the stage by once again stating that prorogation is not an uncommon phenomenon. It is something that is constitutionally available to all prime ministers and, in fact, to premiers and territorial leaders as well.
In fact, over the course of our parliamentary history throughout our federation, over 105 prorogations have taken place and, I would point out, by all political parties of all political stripes, whether they be federal or provincial.
In my home province of Saskatchewan, former premiers Romanow, Calvert and even before that, Woodrow Lloyd, prorogued the provincial legislature on a regular basis. We have even seen in the province of Quebec that the Parti Québécois, from René Lévesque onward, and from Daniel Johnson to Bourassa, the legislature was prorogued on a regular basis. Hence, this is something that is quite common and done routinely. I stress the word “routinely”.
To make the kind of furor, to use kinds of examples the opposition parties are trying to exhibit here today to argue this is somehow an abuse of Parliament, is quite simply not factual.
I would point out also that the argument the opposition parties are trying to advance is that for some reason, this party, this government and this prorogued Parliament to avoid difficult questions. The example they have used is that our Prime Minister prorogued Parliament to try to avoid difficult questions on the Afghan detainee situation.
I would point out not only to my colleagues in the House but also to all Canadians who may be watching, that is absolutely factually incorrect. It was this government that formed the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan to fully examine the role of the military and all of the details concerning the Afghan mission. It was our government that set up that committee.
If we had wanted to avoid questions, if we had wanted to avoid scrutiny of the Afghan detainee situation, all we had to do following prorogation was to fail to reconstitute that committee. That was within our purview. Did we do that? No. As a matter of fact, the first day after we returned, we set out a course to reconstitute all committees, and particularly the special committee on Afghanistan. That committee has now been reconstituted. All examinations of the events, our military and our government, and of all papers now legally available will be carried out, not only by the committee but also by special councils being set up to examine claims of abuse and of documents being hidden from the opposition.
We are far from avoiding scrutiny on Afghanistan. We are encouraging a fulsome discussion on that to demonstrate to Canadians that our military is not made up of war criminals. Quite frankly, that is what the opposition is contending. They are suggesting quite strongly, day after day, that our military, our brave men and women who are protecting not only the people of Afghanistan but also our own democracy, are somehow complicit in war crimes. The opposition is suggesting quite strongly that our brave men and women are knowingly complicit in war crimes because they are turning over Afghan detainees to sure and immediate torture. That is what the opposition is contending. I find that disgraceful.
We are not avoiding those questions. We want that examination. We want to defend our men and women in the military, and for that reason we have reconstituted the special committee on Afghanistan, where all of those questions can be answered.
In the few moments I have left, let me get into the real reason for the NDP motion today. It is not because they want to talk about prorogation. It is not because they think there has been an abuse of Parliament. Far from it. What the NDP is trying to do is to set the stage to allow it to form a coalition government with its coalition partners.
Let me be quite clear about this. If the provisions of the motion presented today by the NDP had in fact been allowed in December 2008, there would be a coalition government today. It was only because the prorogued Parliament that a coalition government did not take over, a coalition government that the vast majority of Canadians from coast to coast to coast absolutely rejected, overwhelmingly rejected, but that is the true motivation behind this motion today.
We all know the results of the 2008 election. The NDP received approximately 18% of the vote nationally. That means 82% of Canadians did not want to see it heading up a government. The Liberal Party received approximately 23%, meaning that approximately 77% of Canadians said they did not want to see a Liberal led government. The Bloc Québécois obviously can never form government because it only represents the province of Quebec and only runs candidates in the province of Quebec. Canadians would not want to see it head up a government, but that is exactly what the coalition partners tried to do.
We know this to be factually correct. This is not simply an allegation that I am standing here and saying to the House. We know this to be factually correct. Let us go back and revisit that dark time in Canadian political history just for a moment, to confirm what I am saying.
We know, because there was a taped conversation between the and his own caucus, that the leader of the NDP confirmed he had been speaking with the Bloc Québécois months before the 2008 election. That was also confirmed by Mr. Brian Topp, the former campaign director of the NDP during the 2008 election, in his book, where he said that this deal had been in the works for many, many months.
Even during the election, when all of the leaders from the opposition side were asked if they would agree to a coalition government, they all said no; but in fact we know that was not being honest, because there was a deal in the works before the election was even called.
Canadians spoke loudly and clearly on what they thought about a coalition government. They rejected it. Thus I again point out to the House and to all Canadians that if the provisions of the motion before us today were in effect in December of 2008, there would be a coalition government in this country today. The leader of that coalition government would be the, who received 23% support in the 2008 election, the lowest percentage of Liberal support in generations. Yet that person would be our prime minister, thanks to the schemes outlined and designed by the NDP.
Prorogation has its place in the Constitution. It has executive powers that give the prime minister of the day the perfect right to prorogue Parliament for legitimate purposes; and I would contend that in December of 2008, it was done for very legitimate purposes, as it was most recently.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the motion put forward by our NDP colleagues.
I am happy to say that the Liberals will be supporting the NDP motion.
We will be supporting this motion because we Liberals agree that steps must be taken to prevent repeated abuses of the powers of the prime minister. Canadians have demanded swift action so that the current and future prime ministers, regardless of the party they may represent, can never again shut down Parliament in order to dodge legitimate questions of accountability from the opposition. That is the first thing.
Second, we believe that Parliament is the people's House and that Parliament is supreme. In this day and age, it is unconscionable for a prime minister to twice now dodge being accountable to Parliament through the abuse of prorogation.
The talked about how prorogation is a normal procedure. He is correct. Prorogation is a procedure that allows a prime minister, through the Governor General who has the power, to close Parliament, both the House of Commons and the Senate, without dissolving Parliament, which would require an election. In fact, under our Constitution, the constitutional power to prorogue is vested in the Governor General. A prime minister's role is to provide advice and to request prorogation of the Governor General who has the constitutional authority to refuse that request.
Traditionally, since Canada was first formed as a confederation, prorogation was used in what we call, and even the called, traditional circumstances. It was conventionally used in traditional circumstances as a legitimate tool for bringing one session of Parliament to an end after the bulk of the government's work that had been laid out in its throne speech for that session had been completed. It allows Parliament to begin again with a new throne speech and a new government agenda.
In this latest prorogation, the government did not achieve or complete the bulk of the work it had announced in its throne speech after the 2008 election. It had not. Nor had it achieved the bulk of the work it had announced in the throne speech that led to the parliamentary session that the prorogued in December 2009.
Previous prime ministers have not abused that conventional authority. We would have to go all the way back to 1873 when Sir John A. Macdonald, then prime minister, tried to stop Parliament from probing his railway scandal. That is when we can find another example of that kind of abuse.
The talked about the average days. Let us talk about that. The current 's most recent parliamentary shutdown lasted 63 days after a session that was 128 days in length. Since 1964 prorogations have lasted 12 days on average, while parliamentary sessions have lasted 187 days.
Madam Speaker, I forgot to mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
We will be supporting the NDP motion, but we believe that it does not go far enough. We will vote in favour of it. However, we believe that there are other measures that can also be taken. We presented a motion in the House, on which we did not get unanimous consent. We think there should be changes to the Standing Orders.
The motion that we presented, which I also presented to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, would require first, that the , before making a request for prorogation, provide written notice of his intention to do so at least 10 days in advance, together with his specific reasons for seeking prorogation.
Second, it would require the to bring the issue of prorogation and his reasons for seeking it before the House of Commons immediately for a full debate.
Third, unless the House otherwise consents, the Standing Orders, as we would like to see them changed, would prohibit a request for prorogation within the first 12 months of any session. Unless the House otherwise consents, it would prohibit a request for prorogation when a vote of confidence had been scheduled in the House.
Finally, it would allow the committees of the House of Commons to continue to function during the period of time that Parliament was prorogued.
It is quite interesting to note that the Conservative and the deputy House leader or deputy whip, I am not sure of his position, have gone on about how the current has done nothing wrong, has not abused his authority in shutting down Parliament twice.
On March 2, I held the third forum on governance. I had a number of noted experts on Canadian constitutional Parliament, our parliamentary democracy. Most notable academics actually agreed with the proposal that I just described.
I also would like to mention Professor Weinstock, professor of philosophy at l'Université de Montréal. There is nobody on the face of this earth who would call Professor Weinstock a friend of the Liberals. Unlike the Conservatives, we Liberals are not afraid to have open discussion and debate with Canadians, including people who do not agree with us.
Professor Weinstock, at the March 2 forum on the state of Canada's parliamentary democracy, noted the importance of having clear constitutional conventions. He made an analogy to Sean Avery, an NHL hockey player. He said that while Mr. Avery did not technically violate the rules of hockey by intentionally trying to distract another player, his actions did violate the spirit of hockey as a sport. He made that analogy clearly and directly with the actions of the , who prorogued Parliament twice, an abuse of his authority: the first time to avoid a confidence vote; and the second time, most recently, December 30, 2009, in order to try and stifle questions about the torture scandal in which the Conservative government, not our military, is involved.
The in so doing violated the spirit of our parliamentary democracy. Shame on him and shame on every member of his caucus sitting in this House who have a duty and a responsibility to protect our parliamentary democracy, not to diminish it, not to erode it. That is exactly what the Prime Minister and the Conservative government has done. Some 225,000 Canadians joined a Facebook group to protest the abuse and the attack on our parliamentary democracy and on the supremacy of our Parliament by the Prime Minister.
The people's Parliament is not insignificant. It is a preoccupation for Canadians. It is a preoccupation for our young Canadians, our middle-aged Canadians and our senior Canadians. For any member of the Conservative government to say that it is not is a fabrication of the purest and clearest kind.
Liberals will support the NDP motion, and we will continue to push on our own motion.
Madam Speaker, I want to start this debate by reading the NDP motion. So far I have heard some of the comments primarily from the government side. It has been a collection of four months of mixed metaphors, mixed messages as to why this prorogation existed in the first place. Let me get to the motion first, which I support. The thrust of the motion is exactly what the House needs in order to attain the supremacy of the House, in which I firmly believe. I think all members do unless placed under a cone of silence:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister shall not advise the Governor General to prorogue any session of any Parliament for longer than seven calendar days without a specific resolution of this House of Commons to support such a prorogation.
Therein lies the thrust of this. I fully support that the House of Commons should support such a prorogation.
Let us put the clock back for a moment and paint a picture of what we have heard. Today I have heard three different responses as to why this recalibration was to take place. At Christmas, I heard the reasoning of many individuals. This is my favourite and it is the one that really made me laugh at them, not with them.
My hon. colleague from the Conservative Party said that we needed to wait so we could put our attention on the Olympics. I have no doubt that our two-man bobsleigh team was very excited and thrilled to have those members of Parliament rooting for them at home, with their feet up drinking a nice hot cup of coffee. As a matter of fact, poor Pierre Lueders never even stood a chance. He never got to the point where he wanted to, and the government is to blame. How absurd is that? However, to basically say that we needed to shut down the House so we could focus on the Olympics had to be at the pinnacle of why we would shut down a functioning House such as this in such a democracy. It was absolutely ridiculous at the time.
Then the answer had shifted in many directions. I called it the prorogation that ran madly off in all directions. We had one answer about the Olympics. We had another answer about the economic action plan. However, what I do not understand, and I will not even condemn the Conservatives on this one but I do have a lot of questions about, is this. They said that they needed to implement the second phase of their economic action plan so they had to shut down the House. What changed? Nothing really. The money rolled out as they said it did under the way they said it would. There was nothing in the way of taking money from one area and putting it in another area. The deadline was January for major projects in my riding. Everything was proceeding as they said, as normal, or maybe it was not.
The only thing that really changed was the fact the Conservatives did not renew the tax credit for home renovations. They do not need to sit around for over 30 days to realize they will not do something. Where was the vision? I expected a modicum of vision to come away from the prorogation. Instead I was told I had to leave, go home and watch the Olympics. However, I did not get to watch much of the Olympics because I was working in my riding, like many other MPs.
However, can we not walk and chew gum at the same time? Can we not elevate ourselves to be smart enough, to be talented enough to do two things at once? On this side, maybe. That was a catty remark and I apologize to my hon. colleagues. I say this because there is a whole heap of scorn being thrown upon us for what happened. It is not the time nor the venue to do this.
Let us have a look at prorogation. What exactly is it? One of the definitions is that we have to close down the House because the bulk of the work has been done. Professor Errol Mendes, University of Ottawa, said:
A proper democratic use of the prerogative power is a legitimate power to end one session of Parliament after a substantial part of the legislative agenda has been fulfilled leading to a new speech from the throne.
I see the nodding heads, therefore we all agree. Here is what else he had to say:
The use of the prerogative power by the [Prime Minister] in Dec. 2008 and again in Dec. 2009 has been used instead to avoid democratic accountability and transparency...
This is the best part. Remember I talked about the Olympics? Remember I talked about the fact that the Conservatives had to recalibrate the economic action plan? If the economic action plan had to be recalibrated, rejigged, then it really was not much of a plan to begin with, but we could go on about that for quite some time.
Every time we asked why Parliament was shut down, we were told that it was normal because this party had done it when in government. Shame on the Conservatives. Congratulations, the Conservative government has now become everything it said it would never be. That is the crux of it. Every time the Conservatives are in trouble, they always turn the spin this way.
In Atlantic Canada there is a fish called a flounder. It is flat fish. It has two eyes on one side. It swims along and whenever it sees trouble, it flips, rolls over and goes back in the other direction.
We have the government floundering its way through excuse after excuse. At times it becomes absolutely comical. It is like an episode of Yes Minister from BBC. It is absolutely ridiculous. What I call a bit of a charade continues. The Conservatives talked about the fact that they recalibrated. They came back to the House and what did they want to do? Change the national anthem. That is the best they could do, change the national anthem and only 48 hours later, like the flounder, went in the other direction.
The issue then becomes this. Where is the vision? Does the Conservative Party not have the vision by which it can see beyond this point? Did the Conservatives not know that Canadians would be upset if they changed the national anthem? Did they not know that they would be upset by shutting down Internet sites under the CAP program? Then 48 hours later, we remember the fish, back the other way. That says they lack vision. Five year programs relegated to one year funding. This is the recalibration.
To top it all off, at the end of the day, what does the world think of what we are doing here? The Conservatives keep talking about this, that and the OECD. Let us hear what Ned Franks of the Economist has to say:
Far from completing its work, Parliament was still considering important measures, including bills that are part of [the Prime Minister's] crackdown on crime, as well as ratification of free-trade agreements with Colombia and Jordan. All must now be reintroduced.
The Economist asked, why shut down Parliament? It did not make sense to it. A lot of people around the world thought the same thing. It was rather bizarre. The British Columbia legislature stayed open during the Olympics. Members of legislature did not feel it was necessary to focus on the Olympics by being off work. For some odd reason, the Conservatives did. They did not have to recalibrate. They kept pursuing their agenda.
Madam Speaker, I will start by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support the New Democratic Party motion concerning restrictions on prorogation.
We must admit that this motion is wishful thinking. Nevertheless, it is what most members of the House as well as the Canadian and Quebec people want. Obviously, the Conservative government and the have used prorogation to evade their responsibilities too often in a short period of time.
We agree with what we are hearing in this regard. For example, the Liberal Party talked about the possibility of setting up a special committee to study this issue.
It is not easy finding a way to restrict the authority of the to ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament.
Some solutions are constitutional in nature, whereas others require legislation or amendments to the Standing Orders.
But that is a technicality. What is important at this point is that we express our political will that the government not repeatedly use its power to ask the Governor General to prorogue the session in order to evade its responsibilities, as the Conservative government and the have done.
The prorogation, which began on December 30, 2009, lasted two months; the new session did not begin until March 3. We were told that the purpose of the prorogation was to recalibrate the government's agenda. When the Speech from the Throne and the budget speech were read, it was obvious that two months to rewrite the same nonsense found in the previous throne speech and budget was far too long. One week would have been enough and it would not have been such a waste of time.
It is very clear that on December 30, when the asked the Governor General to prorogue the session, it was to avoid having the opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the people of Quebec and Canada ask the questions to which they wanted answers. They are still waiting for those answers.
The Prime Minister bet that after two months, the people of Quebec and Canada would forget the questions they were asking when we adjourned on December 10. That is why the government needed time. It was not to recalibrate its policies or write its throne speech or budget speech.
Unfortunately, the lost his bet. He lost it in the first couple of hours after Parliament resumed, when a great many Quebeckers and Canadians quickly understood that the Prime Minister and his government used this tactic simply to avoid answering the opposition's questions. These were and still are very valid questions.
Let us go back to what was on the order of the day at the end of the last session in December.
First, there was the economic crisis. The Bloc Québécois was asking questions almost daily through its industry critic, the hon. member for , about the government's inaction with regard to the forestry and manufacturing crisis, which is far from over. In February, in Quebec alone, 11,000 jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector.
For government members who like to wear rose-coloured glasses, the in particular, it is time to take off those glasses and see that the crisis is far from over in a number of regions and sectors in Quebec and Canada.
What was the government's response to the legitimate concerns of Quebeckers, the Bloc Québécois and Quebec's National Assembly?
The response appears on page 259 of the budget plan, pompously entitled, “Canada's Economic Action Plan: Year 2”. Support for the auto sector is on the order of $9.7 billion. I will say it again: we are all in favour of the support that has been given to the auto sector. It is an essential sector for southern Ontario and for sub-contractors; there are some in Quebec as well. That is not the issue.
I was saying that the stimulus value of $9.7 billion was completely committed in 2009-10.
In the 2009-10 budget, the announced an investment of $170 million over two years for the forestry sector across Canada. When we look at the two figures, it is clear that they are not even comparable. This is the kind of unfairness that the Bloc Québécois and all Quebeckers have been criticizing since the last budget. I am not talking about the budget tabled at the beginning of March 2010, but the one tabled in 2009. The forestry sector was treated unfairly compared to the automotive sector. But the forestry sector creates more jobs across Canada than the automotive sector. This sector has also had more job losses than the automotive sector.
This $170 million was a real slap in the face to the regions of Quebec, to Quebec as a whole and to all of the workers who are experiencing this crisis. How was this amount spent in 2009-10? Across Canada, $62 million was spent on stimulus measures.
What was announced this year? There is $108 million in stimulus measures; $108 million committed. Once again, the government is using its crystal ball here. The amount is so little that it does not take much to commit $108 million in a crisis as big as this one.
I know that the government is not very good at math. That became clear with the invoices made public last week for $2,000 potted plants, $1,000 doorbells, and so on. However, if we add up the $108 million announced in the budget and the $62 million announced last year, we have $170 million. The same $170 million that was announced last year was announced again in this year's budget. The government did not need to prorogue Parliament for two months for this. The figure they gave us in 2009 is the same one they are giving us in 2010, and they would have us believe that it is the second phase of a stimulus plan.
Therefore, they have not addressed this major issue, and the Bloc will continue to ask questions about the forestry sector as well as the manufacturing sector in general. The aerospace sector is going through tough times, could use a cash infusion and needs help. The government is stubbornly turning a deaf ear. And yet, we know what is needed: a refundable tax credit for research and development.
If an aerospace company were to undertake research and development, it could still get a refund for the amounts committed to this research even if it did not turn a profit. We know how crucial it is for this sector to remain on the cutting edge of technology, in this case, in order to benefit from the economic recovery, whenever it happens.
There are things that can be done. Unfortunately, in this very lengthy, but very empty budget—a truly empty shell—there was nothing more than what was criticized throughout 2009.
The government tried to make us lose sight of this major issue, the economic crisis and the forestry crisis, by proroguing for two months. Unfortunately, it did not succeed, as reported in the papers every day across Quebec. The problems have not gone away, and people have very high expectations of the federal government.
Recently, Guy Chevrette, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Quebec Forest Industry Council, was at a meeting of the Joliette Chamber of Commerce. He condemned the government's inaction and asked what is the point of abolishing customs duties on certain machinery that is needed if there is no money to buy it.
Once again, the Conservative government is being criticized for implementing measures in 2009—as well as in the 2010-11 budget—that provide assistance to those that do not need it: the oil companies, the banks and corporations that are doing well. First of all, they will benefit from tax breaks announced previously, breaks that will apply again this year, because they are turning a profit. Other companies are not profitable and will not be paying taxes. Second, they will benefit from the elimination of customs duties on machinery, a measure we agree with. But this will not help those who do not have the cash to purchase machinery and to invest in new technologies.
Once again, we are condemning the Conservative government for implementing measures in 2009, as well as in the 2010-11 budget, that help those that do not need help rather than helping the forestry and manufacturing sectors.
The second reason the government and the prorogued the session was the pitiful performance—and that is being extremely gentle—and the unacceptable behaviour of the Canadian government at the Copenhagen conference, where it won seven consecutive fossil awards. That is practically the fossil of the year award. As members know, this prize was handed out by 300 or 400 non-governmental organizations that focus on climate change issues.
Canada won the depressing fossil award every day of the conference. If we had resumed sitting at the end of January, as we were supposed to, we would have been able to question the government right away about its actions in Copenhagen that bordered on sabotage and about the fact that it was an environmental laughingstock on the international stage.
Once again, I believe that the acted in a partisan and anti-democratic way when he decided to prorogue the session, wait two months and not come back until March, using the Olympics as an excuse. He believed that by the time the games ended, Quebeckers and Canadians would have forgotten that we were the environmental laughingstock of the international community.
But that did not happen. The public's memory has not faded and we are being told every day that it makes no sense that Canada is acting the way it is, with its stance being more in line with that of Saudi Arabia as opposed to European countries, and that it has shown the world that we have become an oil state, like some Middle Eastern countries. That is far from being a force for change on the international stage.
Not only were the Conservative government's actions in Copenhagen unacceptable and a real embarrassment on the world stage, but Canada was the only country in Copenhagen to announce that it would lower its greenhouse gas reduction targets after the conference. The only country in Copenhagen to do so. What nerve.
Before going to Copenhagen, the talked about a 20% emissions reduction by 2025, in terms of intensity targets, if my memory serves me correctly. There was no question of absolute reduction targets. After the conference, it was announced that these intensity targets would be lowered to 17%. Imagine. Not only did Canada win seven fossil awards in Copenhagen, but it was the only country to lower its greenhouse gas reduction targets. Again, I am talking about intensity targets, not absolute targets.
The government also announced that it was using 2005 as the reference year, while the international community and Quebec are asking that 1990 be used as the reference year for calculating greenhouse gas reductions. They want absolute reductions of greenhouse gases. This is not coming from me or the Bloc Québécois; it is coming from the international community, the National Assembly of Quebec and the Government of Quebec. With absolute reduction targets, carbon credits could be sold at a carbon exchange here in Montreal. There are calls to use 1990 as the reference year, with regulations like the ones used in Europe.
However, with the Conservative position, the oil lobby position, we can just forget about the significant efforts Quebec has been making since 1990. Over the past 20 years, Quebec has cut its dependence on oil in half. That has had an impact on the production of greenhouse gases and CO2, but that will not be taken into account because the Conservatives are going to use 2005 as the reference year.
Quebec's manufacturing industry has invested significantly in new technology, which allowed it to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by over 20% between 1990 and 2005. These reductions and efforts will not be taken into account in the Conservative government's regulations, when we see them.
This means that Quebec businesses are going to be asked to make efforts similar to those being made in western Canada, for example. They will have to work twice as hard, since the first reductions are the easiest to make. Indeed, the further along in the process you go, the more difficult and costly reductions become. In addition, this will penalize Quebec and diminish its capacity to earn carbon credits, which would have brought in some cash, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which really needs cash.
The government's environmental and economic strategies go completely against the interests of Quebec. What is interesting is that more and more Quebeckers are realizing this.
So these are some of the questions we would have been asking in January, although we have asked them since and we will continue to ask them in the weeks ahead.
The third issue the , the Conservative Party and the government thought they would be rid of after two months of prorogation is the issue of torture in Afghan prisons. Unfortunately, the government and the Prime Minister seriously miscalculated, because this issue is far from dead. Quite the opposite is true; it is heating up. Every week we receive new information suggesting that NATO has been aware of allegations of torture in Afghan prisons since 2005.
First we heard the testimony of diplomat Richard Colvin, who repeatedly sent memos—seven, if my memory serves—to his superiors concerning these allegations. The second in command at the Canadian embassy in Kabul testified that since 2005, she had informed Canadian authorities about allegations of torture. They tried to evade the issue, but all this evidence is piling up.
The government has been backed so far into a corner that last weekend, it came up with a mandate for former Justice Iacobucci that would turn his inquiry into a red herring. He has been given a very restricted list of documents to review.
The was rather mean—which is fair to say—when he said that Mr. Iacobucci could have access to all the documents from 2001 to 2005. That is when the Liberals were in power. But we have learned that by the end of the Liberals' term, information had been passed on regarding allegations of torture.
No one is fooled. This is a ploy to buy time and avoid complying with the orders of the House, which adopted a very clear motion on December 10, 2009, regarding the documents the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan needed to do its job.
Prorogation was another attempt by the Prime Minister and the government to avoid answering these questions.
If it were the first time, we could pass it off as a mistake, we could assume that the has the wrong people around him. We know his Quebec henchman, Mr. Soudas; I think that he has the wrong people around him. They probably told him that this would pass without a hitch. Plus, it was the holiday season, the Olympics were coming, and there was an orgy of excitement and patriotism.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister and fortunately for us, the public was much smarter than the Prime Minister's entourage thought. All the questions that were being asked in December are still being asked now. We want answers. The government must guarantee that it will truly listen to the people of Quebec and Canada regarding the forestry and manufacturing crisis, the government's actions in Copenhagen and the preparations for the conference to be held in Mexico; it must guarantee that it will refocus.
It does not take two months; it takes political will, which, unfortunately, we cannot seem to see. And I am very afraid that we never will. The Bloc Québécois has already permanently withdrawn its confidence in the government. Until the government changes its direction, this will not change.
If this was due to poor advice from the 's entourage, then maybe we could say that it was just a bad decision. A slap on that wrist, and it would end there. But that is not the case; it has become a habit.
At the end of 2008, the government used the same strategy to avoid a vote of confidence in the House. It uses any means necessary. It even triggered an election in October 2008 in order to avoid answering questions. The government and the broke their promise about keeping fixed election dates.
I feel that this government is completely out of ideas. We have to find a way to keep it from repeatedly shirking its responsibilities. One way of doing this would be to limit the 's power to ask the Governor General to prorogue.
We are open to all potential technical solutions. We are ready to work with the parties that want to experience a more democratic political life here in the House.