That, pursuant to Standing Order 27, the ordinary hour of daily adjournment shall be 12 midnight, commencing on Monday, June 11, 2012, and concluding on Friday, June 22, 2012, but not including Friday, June 15, 2012.
He said: Today I rise to make the case for the government's motion to extend the working hours of this House until midnight for the next two weeks. This is of course a motion made in the context of the Standing Orders, which expressly provide for such a motion to be made on this particular day once a year.
Over the past year, our government's top priority has remained creating jobs and economic growth.
Job creation and economic growth have remained important priorities for our government.
Under the government's economic action plan, Canada's deficits and taxes are going down; investments in education, skills training, and research and innovation are going up; and excessive red tape and regulations are being eliminated.
As the global economic recovery remains fragile, especially in Europe, Canadians want their government to focus on what matters most: jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. This is what our Conservative government has been doing.
On March 29, the delivered economic action plan 2012, a comprehensive budget that coupled our low-tax policy with new actions to promote jobs and economic growth.
The 2012 budget proposed measures aimed at putting our finances in order, increasing innovation and creating suitable and applicable legislation in the area of resource development in order to promote a good, stable investment climate.
The budget was debated for four days and was adopted by the House on April 4. The then introduced Bill , the 2012 budget implementation bill. The debate at second reading of Bill C-38 was the longest debate on a budget implementation bill in at least two decades, and probably the longest ever.
On May 14, after seven days of debate, Bill C-38 was passed at second reading.
The bill has also undergone extensive study in committee. The Standing Committee on Finance held in-depth hearings on the bill. The committee also created a special subcommittee for detailed examination of the bill's responsible resource development provisions. All told, this was the longest committee study of any budget implementation bill for at least the last two decades, and probably ever.
We need to pass Bill to implement the urgent provisions of economic action plan 2012. In addition to our economic measures, our government has brought forward and passed bills that keep the commitments we made to Canadians in the last election.
In a productive, hard-working and orderly way, we fulfilled long-standing commitments to give marketing freedom to western Canadian grain farmers, to end the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, and to improve our democracy by moving every province closer to the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons.
However, in the past year our efforts to focus on the priorities of Canadians have been met with nothing but delay and obstruction tactics by the opposition. In some cases, opposition stalling and delaying tactics have meant that important bills are still not yet law. That is indeed regrettable.
In the case of Bill , the copyright modernization act, a bill that will help to create good, high-paying jobs in Canada's creative and high-tech sectors, this House has debated the bill on 10 days. We heard 79 speeches on it before it was even sent to committee. This is, of course, on top of similar debate that occurred in previous Parliaments on similar bills.
It is important for us to get on with it and pass this bill for the sake of those sectors of our economy, to ensure that Canada remains competitive in a very dynamic, changing high-tech sector in the world, so that we can have Canadian jobs and Canadian leadership in that sector.
Bill is the bill to implement the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. It has also been the subject of numerous days of debate, in fact dozens and dozens of speeches in the House, and it has not even made it to committee yet.
Bill is the Canada-Jordan economic growth and prosperity act. It also implements another important job-creating free trade agreement.
All three of these bills have actually been before this place longer than for just the last year. As I indicated, they were originally introduced in previous Parliaments. Even then, they were supported by a majority of members of this House and were adopted and sent to committee. However, they are still not law.
We are here to work hard for Canadians. Adopting today's motion would give the House sufficient time to make progress on each of these bills prior to the summer recess. Adopting today's motion would also give us time to pass Bill , the pooled registered pension plans act. It is a much-needed piece of legislation that would give Canadians in small businesses and self-employed workers yet another option to help support them in saving for their retirement. Our government is committed to giving Canadians as many options as possible to secure their retirement and to have that income security our seniors need. This is another example of how we can work to give them those options.
In addition to these bills that have been obstructed, opposed or delayed one way or another by the opposition, there are numerous bills that potentially have support from the opposition side but still have not yet come to a vote. By adding hours to each working day in the House over the next two weeks, we would allow time for these bills to come before members of Parliament for a vote. These include: Bill , safeguarding Canadians' personal information act; and Bill , strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act. I might add, that bill is long overdue as our military justice system is in need of these proposed changes. It has been looking for them for some time. It is a fairly small and discrete bill and taking so long to pass this House is not a testament to our productivity and efficiency. I hope we will be able to proceed with that.
Bill is the first nations financial transparency act, another step forward in accountability. Bill is the financial literacy leader act. At a time when we are concerned about people's financial circumstances, not just countries' but individuals', this is a positive step forward to help people improve their financial literacy so all Canadians can face a more secure financial future. Bill is the protecting Canada's seniors act which aims to prevent elder abuse. Does it not make sense that we move forward on that to provide Canadian seniors the protection they need from those very heinous crimes and offences which have become increasingly common in news reports in recent years?
Bill is the increasing offenders' accountability for victims act. This is another major step forward for readjusting our justice system which has been seen by most Canadians as being for too long concerned only about the rights and privileges of the criminals who are appearing in it, with insufficient consideration for the needs of victims and the impact of those criminal acts on them. We want to see a rebalancing of the system and that is why Bill C-37 is so important.
Of course, we have bills that have already been through the Senate, and are waiting on us to deal with them. Bill , which deals with matrimonial real property, which would give fairness and equality to women on reserve, long overdue in this country. Let us get on with it and give first nations women the real property rights they deserve. Then there is Bill , first nations electoral reform, a provision we want to see in place to advance democracy. Bill is the safe drinking water for first nations act; and Bill is the combatting terrorism act.
As members can see, there is plenty more work for this House to do. As members of Parliament, the least we can do is put in a bit of overtime and get these important measures passed.
In conclusion, Canada's economic strength, our advantage in these uncertain times, and our stability also depend on political stability and strong leadership. Across the world, political gridlock and indecision have led to economic uncertainty and they continue to threaten the world economy. That is not what Canadians want for their government. Our government is taking action to manage the country's business in a productive, hard-working and orderly fashion. That is why all members need to work together in a time of global economic uncertainty to advance the important bills I have identified, before we adjourn for the summer.
I call on all members to support today's motion to extend the working hours of this House by a few hours for the next two weeks. For the members opposite, not only do I hope for their support in this motion, I also hope I can count on them to put the interests of Canadians first and work with this government to pass the important bills that remain before us.
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we have this debate today about extending hours, because we cannot look at this particular motion in isolation from everything that has happened in the past year since the election, under this Conservative government.
I would begin my remarks by saying that I think a measure of a government is how it represents and respects the institution it operates within. By and large, certainly a majority government controls that institution. Therefore, how the government actually operates on a day-to-day basis and operates overall in terms of respecting the opinions of opposition, of members of the public, of committees, of the structures and the vehicles that we have, is a very important criterion in terms of how one looks at how a government is performing, whether it is the current Conservative government, a majority government or former governments. One has to look at this motion today in that context.
I mentioned in my remarks earlier that we have seen the government now bring in time allocation possibly 20 to 24 times on different bills. Time is a very valuable commodity. It is something by which we all operate. We understand the importance of it. I do find it incredibly ironic that, on the one hand, we have a government that has been doing everything it can to restrict the time we have for debate, for example, on Bill , but on the other hand it is looking for an expansion of time in the next two weeks because it wants to get everything else through. This is really very disrespectful of the process we have in Parliament and is disrespectful of the engagement that members of Parliament want to have.
Bill Blaikie, who was the former member for Elmwood—Transcona, actually was the dean of the House. He was a very long-standing member of the House of Commons for more than 20 years. I remember speaking with Bill Blaikie on many occasions and getting a sense of how much the procedures had changed in this place, how much the rules had been bent, managed and finessed to basically minimize and restrict what members of Parliament can do.
We have to look at this issue over the longer term. We have to look at how much has been cut out already. Whether it is the right to have ongoing debate or the rules of the House generally, there has been so much undermining of the democratic process in this place. When we look at this motion today and we look at the underlying intent that motion has, which is to basically control the government agenda and to do everything it can to push through what it believes is necessary, then we can see that this place begins to be diminished. Its role and the role we have as individual members of Parliament begins to be diminished.
I remember, back in 1998 or 1999, the Reform Party of the day bringing in 472 amendments on the Nisga'a treaty. It is curious though that the Conservatives seemed to have no problem then in insisting that there had to be proper debate and a proper process. In fact, they used it. They were very opposed to that treaty. I remember voting. I think it was about 48 hours straight when we voted on those 472 amendments to the Nisga'a treaty in British Columbia. They seem to have forgotten all of that. They seem to have forgotten the process and the need to have some sort of equilibrium in this place. It has now become a very heavy-handed measure that it uses. That is what we are seeing today with this motion.
If we add on other examples, such as gag orders to employees, this is no longer a place where even people who work in different departments of the federal government are free to express an opinion. The gag orders are out there to shut down, to be silent and to self-censor. It all speaks to a pattern of incredible control. It speaks to a pattern of undermining the democratic process.
All opposition parties have a responsibility to hold the government to account. My hon. colleague from , the NDP House leader, in his earlier intervention on a point of privilege made the point well that by blocking information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, by withholding information to parliamentarians, we are impeding the proper functioning of a democratic process.
When we put all of that together, we can begin to see we have a government that is arrogant in its approach and dismissive of any opposition. That speaks badly to our democratic process as a whole.
We have seen unbelievable opposition to Bill . We heard the say earlier that this is the longest debate we have ever had. Seven days at second reading on a bill that would have so much impact on almost every aspect of anyone's life in Canada, amending more than 70 pieces of legislation, is the equivalent to having one day of debate for 10 different pieces of legislation. I do not think anybody could characterize that as any kind of adequate or substantive debate.
We are not only opposed to the motion and all of the processes that are unfolding in such a high-handed way by the Conservative government; we are also dealing with the substance. We are also opposed to the process of ramming through all of these bills because the substance of what is contained in the legislation is critical. It is important that people understand what all of these changes are about. We have been pressing that day after day in question period and in committee, where our team did an incredible job of bringing forward amendments.
The list of changes and their impacts is just unbelievable. We have heard about changes to food safety inspection and EI. The government is basically rewriting the way EI will operate. What is worse is that it will be under the complete control of the minister.
We are debating changes in Bill that would give the huge powers to make regulations and unilateral changes to the employment insurance system. This is particularly offensive because, as we know, the employment insurance system is based on contributions from workers and employers. It is a system that people rely on when they need it. Yet the wholesale changes that we know are coming, with respect to what is considered suitable employment, how far one has to travel, the wages that are involved, are all substantive changes. The ability to examine even that one piece in Bill C-38 has been minimal.
We also heard earlier today from the member for , who raised a question in question period, as she has done for many days both here and in committee, about the changes to environmental assessments. Today in question period she noted that Bill would, with one clause, change the whole environmental assessment procedure in Canada. The bill would basically bring in a whole new system. In normal terms over the history of Parliament, these are changes that would have intense scrutiny, each and every one of them.
Scrapping the director general of CSIS, what is all that about? Why is that being allowed to happen? What about the gutting of the Fisheries Act?
What about weakening foreign ownership rules on telecommunications? People who work in this industry, not the big corporations, are hugely concerned that buried in Bill are significant changes to foreign ownership rules that would make it much easier for corporations from abroad to come into Canada and take greater control over our telecommunications industry. That is something that requires substantive examination, but it is buried in the bill.
We have the cuts to health services for refugees. This one only came out more recently and now there is a huge outcry across the country about what the impact would be for refugees. We hear the talking points from the government members saying that refugees will not get anything more than anybody else. However, the loss of some of these medical services would have a significant impact upon people's lives.
However, do we get time to examine this? I do not think so because again this is something that is being rammed through.
The mentioned some of the other legislation that his government wants to move through if the motion to extend the hours passes, which, of course, it has the votes to do. It is very possible that, with some of these bills with which other parties in Parliament agree with, there may be some agreement to have a good debate and to see the passage of those bills. That is something that we have done for many years where there is co-operation, where there is some dialogue, conversation, that we can actually come to an agreement. It seems to me that is the way we should be conducting our business. We should be allowing the House leaders to meet to figure out, where there is some agreement, which bills can go through, because there may well be agreement that there has been adequate discussion and that would be a timely and proper thing to do.
However, I think it is wrong to lay down a whole list of probably 15 or more bills and say that in the next two weeks we will sit until midnight, that we will ram all these bills through no matter what anybody thinks and no matter the length of debate. I know the Conservatives will use the argument that we can debate it all we want but I think the central point that we need to make about this motion is that it is not intended to allow substantive debate on these bills, whether there are 6 or 10 or 15. The purpose is to allow the government to , ram them through. I will bet my bottom dollar that it will now accompany this extension of hours, if it gets it, with time allocation.
I again come back to my first point, which is that on the one hand, the government is both restricting debate on Bill and other bills and it is also creating time for further debate so that it can also restrict debate to get the bills through. This is what we have come to. I have been in this Parliament now 15 years, through six elections. I have seen minority Parliaments and majority governments. I have seen how this operates. I know that if there is that process of some dialogue, goodwill, respect and trust, having been a House leader for eight years as well, we can arrive at a consideration and an agreement about the House agenda. We have the capacity to do that.
However, when the government y is so disrespectful of both the process and the substance and has an agenda that it just wants to ram through in the closing weeks of Parliament, all I can say is that we need to do our job and our job is to hold the government to account. Our job is to ensure that there is substantive and proper examination of all the bills before the House. We owe that to our constituents and to the public in general. I can tell from the emails that I am receiving and the stuff that is on Facebook that people are truly alarmed at the government's method of dealing, in particular, with Bill .
People are only just beginning to understand the comprehensiveness and the far-reaching impact that the bill would have. This notion that it has had the longest debate ever is just nonsense. We need to look at what is in the bill. We need to know all of the legislation that it is trying to change. We need to know that none of that has been properly examined.
I do find that the government, in putting forward this motion today, is, regrettably, just a continuation of the arrogance it has displayed. It is a continuation of a disrespect of this place. It is a pattern of just wanting to get something through at any cost.
I feel very proud that the NDP, the official opposition, has spoken out very strongly. All of the amendments we have for Bill , which will be voted on this week, are a reflection of the opposition that exists in this country. They are not just spurious amendments. These amendments are a reflection of what it is we are hearing from Canadians.
It is incredibly disappointing that the government is refusing to budge even an inch to look at splitting the bill or to look at ways to manage the bill so that there is proper debate. We have not seen the government willing to move anything on that front. That is a real indication, unfortunately, of where the Conservatives are at.
We will not be supporting the motion, not because we do not want to be here at night to debate. We are quite happy to do that. We are good at it. We would be happy to debate until midnight. However, we need to look at the intent of the motion and we know full well that the intent of the motion to extend the hours is so the government can bring in further time allocation to ram through Bill , plus a dozen or more other pieces of legislation.
That is offensive. It is disrespectful of this Parliament. It is something that we do not think can be unchallenged, and it is for that reason that we oppose the motion.
I would like to move an amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by replacing the words “Friday, June 22” with the following: “Thursday, June 21”.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand to speak to this motion, a motion by which I am not totally surprised. One could have anticipated it, given the record of the government and its inability to negotiate in good faith.
Let me start by saying that I do not have a great deal of legislative experience here in the House of Commons, but I do bring with me quite a bit of experience from the Manitoba legislature. I like to think that a lot of the principles are the same. There are different issues and so forth, but I have a fairly good understanding of the principles of how a chamber works and how House leaders should be working with each other to try to get through legislative agendas. I have been doing it for 20 years now.
I would like to focus my first few minutes on the fact that we need to look at why we are in the situation we find ourselves in today. The government, more than any other government, has set a record on time allocation. It brings in time allocation in order to pass its legislative agenda. It is almost becoming standard process, as opposed to sitting down with opposition parties.
The Conservatives present their legislation to the House. They pick a bill, wait a day and then bring in time allocation in expectation that it will pass. They do not have to consult. I think that is some sort of pent-up anger from the minority days or something of that nature, and we are seeing a very irresponsible, anti-democratic Reform Conservative majority government that has been destructive to process inside the House of Commons.
I have worked with majority government in the past, when there were NDP House leaders and Progressive Conservative House leaders. On all occasions, I have had the opportunity to sit in the House leader's office or in a committee room, and the government members will say, “Here is what we are looking at as a legislative agenda. Here are the important bills that we want to get passed over the next number of months”. Opposition members will then say, “We want to have x number of hours of debate on this particular bill because it is controversial legislation and we feel it needs to be debated. It has a higher priority for debate.”
The point is that there is a sense of cooperation to make sure that what is taking place on the floor of the legislative assembly, or in this case the House of Commons, is being debated fairly.
That is not to say I have never witnessed closure of some form or another inside the Manitoba legislature. That happened, and whether it was the NDP or Progressive Conservatives, it happened. It is a tool that is there, and I believe political parties of all stripes have at times had to go into that tool box.
However, more often than not I have witnessed agreements to go into extended sitting hours, and that is what this motion is all about. House leaders say they need more time to get something passed, but what has amazed me in my year and a half in the House is the lack of goodwill, the lack of trust coming from the government side in terms of trying to get things through the House of Commons in a fair and appropriate fashion.
I can recall the Canadian Wheat Board legislation that was put through in this session. This huge piece of legislation impacted 30,000 or 40,000 prairie farmers. We have a law in place that says that the has a responsibility to ensure a plebiscite for the farmers. The plebiscite is still in the court process, but the government brought in legislation that it expects MPs to pass without the farmers even having the plebiscite, a right that the law in essence guaranteed them. It guaranteed that they should have a vote because of the changes to the wheat board.
We in the Liberal Party opposed what the government was doing. We opposed the fashion with which it was bringing in legislation. What did the government do? As it has done 20 other times, which is a record, the government brought in time allocation. It has brought in time allocation 25 times, I believe.
What does time allocation do? In essence, it prevents debate and allows the government to rush through legislation. By doing that, the government is doing a disservice to Canadians and it is not respecting the House.
I do not know what the tradition has been—three, four, five times a year?—but I do know that no other government has brought in time allocation 25 times in one year. That has to be record. It could be a Commonwealth record, as far as I know. That is what is wrong with the Conservative government.
I am not fearful of sitting until midnight. I have sat around the clock before. I have sat in committees before.
The says we have had eight or ten hours of debate. This is a budget bill, and we are spending over $250 billion. The Manitoba legislature had 240 hours of line-by-line debate on estimates to spend $6 billion. That was only on a $6 billion budget at that time. Those 240 hours have been reduced somewhat, and the amount of money that the province of Manitoba spends has changed , but everything has to be put into its proper perspective.
Bill has been termed the “Trojan Horse” as a budget bill because 70 laws would be changed, amended or deleted, and all through the back door. Is there any wonder that all these little red flags are shooting up all over the place the more Canadians find out about it? Canadians realize that what is happening here is wrong.
It goes beyond the NDP and the Liberals. I saw the YouTube clip in which a Conservative backbencher was sharing with an intimate group of constituents that a number of Conservatives have some trouble with the legislation, but that they do not have any choice. I would suggest that there is a choice, and that choice needs to be looked at.
This is unprecedented. The size of the legislation and its profound environmental impact are significant.
The motion we are dealing with does not deal just with Bill . It deals with a wide variety of pieces of legislation. There is no secret here. We know the government's intentions. It is going to bring in more time allocation, because the government House leader has not been able to negotiate. He has not been able to sit down and work things through.
The budget bill would have a profound impact on the environment. Why did the government choose to put something like that in a budget bill?
I do not know how many of my Atlantic colleagues have raised the EI changes in question period to try to get the government to wake up on the employment insurance issue. This is costing industry in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and all over Canada. We have industries that are being put in jeopardy because of what is being sneaked through the back door with this legislation. There would be reforms to EI and pensions.
I have never had as much interest for signing petitions as I have had on the pension issue. Whether here or in my previous life as an MLA, I have submitted a few petitions over the years, but never with as much interest as on the pension issue. Canadians feel very passionate about our social programs. Increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 is just a dumb idea and Canadians do not support it.
Mr. Harold Albrecht: Yes, they do.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: A member from across the way says that they do. He better canvass his constituents because it will become an election issue. The Liberal Party will take that issue to the polls.
At the end of the day, the residents of Winnipeg North, and I do not think they are too far off from those in the rest of Canada, are very upset and concerned about the pension issue. They want to have that option to retire at age 65. They believe in that program.
Let us take a look at the micro-scales on the impact of the budget bill.
We have immigration offices that are being closed down, hundreds of CIC workers are being taken out and individuals who are in need of these services are impacted.
We can talk about search and rescue and the impact the budget bill will have on it, with offices being relocated or closed down. There are many different issues.
Earlier today I received some correspondence regarding the Riel House in the city of Winnipeg. Louis Riel was one of the founders of Confederation as far as many Manitobans and Francophone are concerned, but that house is now in jeopardy.
There are so many issues that are related to Bill . We have to look at all the other issues. The government House leader said, the Conservatives had other legislation that they wanted to get passed, and he then started to list off more legislation. We welcome the opportunity to debate and have proposed legislation go to committee.
We are interested in those important issues on which Canadians want parliamentarians to work. It was the Liberal Party that first raised the issue in last fall's session that the number one priority for Canadians was jobs, jobs, jobs. Unemployed people are concerned about being able to provide for their family and themselves. We have recognized the importance of the economy.
We are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that we move forward in a positive way and that we let the government know what the concerns are. Last fall, I spent a lot of time talking about jobs. However, in the last few weeks it seems I have been talking more and more about process because I am concerned about what is happening inside the House. Many may see process as being somewhat of a dull issue, but it is far from that.
This is about democracy. This is about the rights of members of Parliament to really engage in discussion that is necessary, whether it is on the floor of the House of Commons or after a bill passes and goes to committee. We have to ensure that those rights are protected. There is an expectation, and I do not know about other members, I would assume so, that when we knock on doors and tell our constituents we are prepared to go to Ottawa to ensure their concerns are addressed, that we do so. I have always added that I want to bring Ottawa to Winnipeg.
The point is to ensure that the concerns of our constituents are addressed. That is why in this very short of period of time, when we talk about the extension of hours, I raise the issue of the budget and the seniors issue. I can talk about how this budget will impact health care. It has always been a very important issue, not only for residents of but, I believe, all Canadians. A big issue has always been crime and safety in our streets, something that I have argued may even likely be the number one issue for in the minds of a good percentage of my constituents, and for just reason. This is one of the reasons why I talk about that a great deal, and will continue to do so.
However, the motion that we ultimately will be asked to vote on is if the House should extend its sitting until midnight for the next period of time. I would feel so much better if the government House leader and the government's House leadership team would work with the opposition House leaders and their teams to see if in fact we could come up with some sort of compromise so Canadians would be served first and foremost.
It is interesting. The government House leader concluded his opening remarks on the motion by saying that we should put Canadians first. This would be a challenge that I would put to him, to put Canadians first.
I was provided with a quote that the government House leader actually made back in July 2005. It states:
A major reason I became politically active was because many in my family...lost their lives, or freedom at the hands of the Soviets or Nazis. I believe our democracy is fragile, and something we must cherish and defend.
This was something he apparently had on a website on July 5, 2005. He was talking about what was a sad day in the House of Commons.
I, like the government House leader, like to think I am a defender of our democratic system and our institutions. I believe it is important that as a House we work together to try to address the important issues of all Canadians.
The House leaders of all political parties inside this chamber play a very important role. If the House leaders do their job, then we are able to have an orderly ending to a session. There will be bills that will be opposed and the opposition will want to voice those concerns. We should not try to tie their hands. We have to allow, for those controversial bills, the opportunity for the opposition members to express themselves. That means not bringing in time allocation as often as the current government has. It means to allow the committees to do the work they need to do so these issues are addressed in a timely fashion.
I look forward in the future to the government House leader working with opposition House leaders in an attempt to have more orderly windup sessions.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand here and debate some of my more learned colleagues on the motion we have before us, which is of course to extend debate until midnight over the course of the next two weeks.
Standing Order 27 is the standing order we are talking about here. I should say that this standing order, of course, has been utilized many times in the past. In fact I recall when we first formed government in 2006. I believe the first opportunity we had to utilize Standing Order 27 and extend debate was in 2007. Since that time we have not had extended debate.
We have not had extended sitting hours for the last two weeks of a Parliament, but that is due to a number of different factors. For a couple of years, 2008, 2009, I believe it was just an agreement made between parties that it would not be required. I also believe there was an implied threat from members of the opposition during those minority government years that if our government had brought the motion forward, it would have been defeated.
There is a reason why Standing Order 27 was incorporated to begin with, and that is to allow the government of the day to bring forward pieces of legislation in an attempt to get them passed before that Parliament rose for the summer. It is always in the last two weeks of a parliamentary session, heading into the summer months, that this ability of a government to bring forward a motion for extended sitting hours is there.
I find it interesting that members of the opposition, particularly members of the official opposition, the NDP, have stated that they will be opposing our motion for extended sitting hours. In fact I always find that disingenuous on behalf of the opposition members, because they have consistently stated that they want more debate time. On almost every single piece of legislation we have introduced in this Parliament and previous parliaments, the NDP has consistently stated it wants more debate time.
We are now offering more debate time on several bills that are on our legislative calendar, yet faced with the opportunity for increased debate, enhanced scrutiny, the NDP says no. The NDP members do not want to sit the extra hours each and every night to debate bills.
I do not know if we have heard nothing but loose lips talking in previous months and previous years, from the NDP, if in fact it really did not want increased debate all these years, or if the NDP is actually telling the truth right now when it says it opposes the increased debate because it disagrees fundamentally with the government on Bill .
I find it strange that the NDP uses that argument when we in fact have been debating Bill . The opposition obviously has seen enough of the bill to be able to introduce more than 1,000 amendments originally, pared down to 871 amendments.
On one hand, again, we see this disconnect between reality and what the official opposition is stating publicly, and that is simply this: if it did not have enough information about Bill to begin with, how in the world could it have then brought forward 1,000 amendments? It does not seem to make sense to me that it would have a lack of information about what is contained in Bill but still have the ability to bring forward more than 1,000 amendments. It must have some knowledge of what is contained in Bill , or else how could it have brought forward any amendments?
We know, of course, that the reality is simply this: opposition members, both on the NDP benches and the Liberal benches, are not looking for more reasoned debate on any piece of legislation that our government has brought forward. They are simply trying to delay implementation of each and every piece of legislation we bring forward.
That is readily apparent, and not only on Bill but on some of the other pieces of legislation in which we wish to engage the opposition in debate over the course of the next two weeks. There is Canada-Jordan free trade, Canada-Panama free trade and the modernization of the Copyright Act.
All these legislative initiatives were brought forward not only a few weeks ago but, in some cases, years ago. We have been engaging the opposition in debate on some of these matters for literally years, but to no avail. Something I find very troubling is that I hear members of the opposition state that they wish to have meaningful debate and they want to have co-operation with all parties in this place, yet they consistently go out of their way to try to inhibit legislation from passing.
I understand. I get what an opposition does, and I certainly agree that it is there to hold the government to account. I understand that the opposition members' primary function is to oppose government legislation. However, they cannot then say they want to work with the government to bring legislation to fruition if in fact their primary motive is simply to kill the bill, with apologies to Quentin Tarantino.
The government is attempting to bring forward legislation in a timely fashion and to ensure we have adequate debate. However, members of the opposition have consistently demonstrated that they wish nothing more than to delay, obfuscate and do anything in their power, through procedural tactics like hoist bills and other delaying tactics, to prevent our government from passing legislation. That is okay. If that is what they consider to be their primary function in this place, we will deal with that.
However, that is the reason, more than anything else, that we have brought forward time allocation on a number of occasions now. I will also point out to those who may be paying attention to this debate, who are not completely familiar with parliamentary procedures, that time allocation is a function used by many governments in previous years. It is a part of our Standing Order package that allows the government of the day to put a certain time allocation on a respective bill before it comes forward for debate at either second reading, report stage or third reading.
However, I will point out differences between our approach and those of governments in past years, particularly the previous Liberal governments who used time allocation and closure far more frequently than our government and used to have a standard one day of debate on bills that they used to time allocate. Members of this place will know, if they have been paying attention, that is not the approach we have been taking. When we have brought forward time allocation, we have done so in a fashion that would allow for several days of debate after the time allocation motion has been brought forward. Again, contrast that with the previous Liberal government, which would bring forward time allocation motions and restrict the debate to one day and sometimes, as the record would show, to as few as three hours in some cases.
So the only reason we have been bringing forward time allocation on a number of bills is that the opposition members have demonstrated that they will do everything within their powers to delay implementation. If any government is faced with a situation where it has been demonstrated that the opposition will delay and obfuscate to the point of never allowing any legislation to pass, then the government has no recourse and no other option but to bring forward time allocation motions, and that is what we have been doing.
Of course, from a political standpoint the narrative that the opposition members, particularly the NDP, have been trying to weave is that if they can force our government into bringing forward time allocation motions it benefits them politically, by allowing them to stand up in this House and to go to political meetings and say, “This government is restricting debate; look at all the time allocation motions it brought forward”. However, what the opposition members are trying to do is run up the score. They are trying to force our government to bring forward time allocation motions on almost every piece of legislation because it feeds their narrative. That is the reality. Is it good politics? Perhaps. We will find that out.
What Canadians expect of any government is that legislation be passed and that it be passed in a timely fashion. That is what we are doing, more than anything else.
If we look at the number of days of debate, the number of hours of debate, the number of speeches presented in this House on debate with various pieces of legislation that we have time allocated, we would find on average that there has been more debate on a bill-by-bill basis than with any government in the last 20 years. The opposition members do not like that because it is the truth, but if they took the time to actually research what I am saying, they will find it is absolutely true.
We have many new members in this place, so I do not expect them to know all of the parliamentary history, but I would encourage them to please go back and look at legislation that previous Liberal governments brought forward and look not only at how many times time allocation was used but also at closure. I am assuming that the members opposite know the distinction between time allocation and closure.
The reality is simply this, that Canadians expect governments of the day, regardless of their political stripe, to pass legislation, because without that ability, no government can function.
One of the problems in a minority government, which we all saw from time to time, is parliamentary gridlock. We reached an impasse where legislation simply would not pass because of the combined forces of the opposition blocking any attempt by this government to pass legislation in a timely fashion.
Obviously the dynamics have now changed: we have a majority government we are getting legislation through. Yet more needs to be done.
I will give four quick examples of what I consider to be critical pieces of legislation that Canadians would like to see our government act upon. I have mentioned them previously. One is the copyright modernization act, an act that has not been modernized for far too many years. We are on the cusp of finally passing that bill, but we need additional time to do so.
We have two more free trade agreements, one with Jordan and one with Panama, that will greatly enhance our economic ability to create jobs, to create wealth within our country. We need time, however, over the course of the next two weeks to get those bills properly debated and, hopefully, passed.
Of course, we have the pooled registered pension plans act that will provide, for the first time, to Canadians who are self-employed and do not currently have pensions the ability to opt into a pension plan, which will affect hundreds of thousands and actually millions of Canadians.
These are all extremely important pieces of legislation that Canadians want to see passed, which is all that we are trying to do, to ensure that over the course of the next two weeks before we rise for the summer, that at minimum these four pieces of critical legislation are passed.
Do we expect to get cooperation from the opposition? I will not prejudge that; I simply will not do that. I hope that the members opposite who have been speaking today in this debate, stating that they wish to cooperate with the government, are sincere in their comments, but time will tell.
I do want to mention the relationship, as I mentioned to my colleague, my friend from , that should exist among House leaders. I, too, have been involved with the House leaders management team for the past number of years. In fact, I have been the parliamentary secretary to five different House leaders since we were first elected to government in 2006, and I can assure the members opposite, all members, that from time to time, while there may be acrimony and some hard feelings, I believe that on most occasions the House leaders of all parties, opposition and government together, do work together in a fairly collegial atmosphere.
There will also be times when all opposition parties and the government, through their House leaders and their House management teams, can agree on certain pieces of legislation that can be passed.
I will not tell any stories out of school, or break any confidential pact, because House leaders meetings of course are in camera and are confidential, but I can assure members opposite that I have been involved in previous years in negotiating when sessions end.
I do not want to give the impression to any Canadian that parliamentarians want to get out of here early and do not want to do the work they have been elected to do. However, from time to time, as we get close to an end of a parliamentary session, there is the opportunity for all parties to come together to try to agree on what legislation might be available for quick passage.
It is not uncommon, for example, for opposition parties to come forward during House leaders' discussions and ask what priority pieces of legislation the government has on its agenda. That is code of sorts, quite frankly, for what pieces of legislation the government wants passed before we get out of here for the summer. Maybe we could have some discussion; maybe we could find some common ground, some agreement. It has always worked well and I anticipate, or at least I certainly hope, that this opportunity over the course of two weeks will not disappoint me and that we will find common ground again.
I particularly want to point out that I agree with a comment by my friend from a little earlier, that surely to goodness there could be the type of relationship among House leaders that allows for some legitimate debate on the length of time that bills need to be debated. I have had this conversation with the House leaders of both the Liberals and the NDP in months and years past. In a perfect world I would love to see a situation or the type of dynamic in play where on a relatively normal bill, a non-controversial bill, we could agree on an average length of debate. If we could agree, whether it is five days or ten days or so many hours, that would be the standard we would try to hold ourselves to.
Obviously there would be times where legislation that any government introduced would be opposed vigorously by the members of the opposition. We have clearly seen some of those in this session of Parliament, such as on the long gun registry and the Wheat Board, and there will be others. I can understand that, and I believe that the opposition members understand that those are the types of legislative initiatives where the opposition and the government will never find common ground. That is okay. That is the nature of democracy; that is the nature of Parliament. In those cases though, I still think that we could find some common ground to agree that if we are going to encounter vehement opposition, then what is a legitimate timeframe we can put on that debate. Perhaps it would not be as short as some of the more non-controversial pieces of legislation, but can we at least find some agreement to limit debate after a certain period of time, if we know that we will never find agreement between the opposite sides of the House?
That has been attempted. At times it has proven to be successful. I would like to see more of that type of dialogue between parties. However, where we cannot bridge that impasse, then we will find that the government has to use the levers at its disposal. We have been doing that, but I believe we have been doing that in a judicious manner.
I invite comments from opposition members to see if there are ways they would suggest for us to find even more enhanced co-operation between all parties in this place.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak on behalf of my party on this motion. I want to preface my remarks by saying I was hoping to have the opportunity to ask my colleague, the , a question. I, too, am amazed at how he can so articulately outline the position of the government and make it so understandable and do it without notes. Unfortunately, I have not gained that opportunity. However, maybe with a few more years of sitting under his mentorship I will have some of that under my belt.
I am pleased to rise in support of the government's motion, pursuant to Standing Order 27, to extend the sitting hours of the House in the final two weeks before the summer adjournment. Later, I want to make a few general comments about why we need to extend the hours. Now, I would like to focus on the House rules as they relate to the ability of the government and the need of the government to implement this measure.
O'Brien and Bosc House of Commons Procedure and Practice states on page 403:
Since 1982, and the advent of a fixed House of Commons calendar, the Standing Orders have provided for the extension of sitting hours during the last 10 sitting days in June.
O'Brien and Bosc further states, on pages 403 to 404:
In order to extend the hours of sitting in June, a motion, for which no notice is required, must be moved by a Minister during Routine Proceedings on the 10th sitting day preceding June 23. The motion, which must propose to extend sittings to a specific hour, but not necessarily for every day during that period, is subject to a maximum two-hour debate before the question is put by the Speaker.
Standing Order 27 is designed to provide the government with the option of seeking additional time before the summer adjournment for consideration by the House of important government priorities. This House has accomplished a lot this session, but there is more important work to do. Adopting the motion would provide further time for the House to debate important economic bills, like Bill , the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, which would benefit our constituents, before we return to our ridings this summer.
Earlier in the debate today, my colleague from made a comment to the House leader, something to the effect he was challenging the House leader to be sure that the House leader stayed here in Parliament for the full extent of the debate that we would have during these sitting hours.
I would like to point out to those who may be watching that much of the work of a parliamentarian is done outside this House. Yes, it is important that we are here for debates, motions and votes. However, my colleague will know that much of the work of a parliamentarian has to happen outside this House. We go back to our offices here on Parliament Hill. There are emails to deal with, phone calls to deal with, stakeholder meetings that are required of us. All of these functions are part of a parliamentarian's duties.
Add to that the responsibility of a House leader and one could imagine that it would be impossible, and my colleague knows this, for the House leader to sit here at his desk all day long to engage in debate. There are other important obligations placed upon our House leader.
It is important to point out to Canadians who were expecting us to move ahead on many of these initiatives to think about some of the positions that the NDP members have taken over the past number of weeks. They have repeatedly complained of lack of time to debate the legislation that we put before them. And now, here we have before us an opportunity to extend the hours to give them more opportunity.
Another point of irony in this whole debate is that during the debate on Bill , the member for used virtually 98% or more of the time available for all members to debate that bill. He used up all of that time, not allowing his colleagues, even the members of his own party, let alone the opposition, the opportunity to adequately enter into debate on that bill.
So, here we are, today, giving them the opportunity to extend those hours so that we can have important debate on the important legislation that we have tabled and they are saying, “No, we don't want to do that”. I think Canadians expect us to work until the job is done.
In these last six years that I have been a member of Parliament there are two things for which I am thankful. One is that I was raised on a farm and learned how to work hard and the other is that I learned how to work as a team member. Farmers realize that when it comes to spring planting season, they have to put in longer hours if the job is going to get done. When it comes to harvest in late summer or fall, farmers have to put in extra hours and extra resources may have to be called in. Canadians expect us at this point in history, when the economic recovery is still so fragile, to get the initiatives in this legislation implemented quickly.
Some misinformation has been given out today regarding the environmental changes that we are proposing. My colleague from said “we are torching” the environmental regulations. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Bill proposes that when major projects are under review there be one project, one review, so that we are not needlessly duplicating and adding time and cost to those who are trying to move on with a project. Environmental assessments will be just as rigorous, perhaps more so. We will be giving companies a timeline in which the answer will be given. The answer may still be no, that the project cannot go ahead because of an environmental concern, but at least at the end of the day the company that is trying to move ahead with a project will have a definitive answer and it can move ahead with certainty.
Over the past number of days and weeks we have debated the changes to the EI system. I sat here through hours of debate as my colleagues on the other side argued against the fact that people should have the opportunity to take a job earning 80% of what they previously earned rather than sitting at home earning 55%.
Many of my constituents find that incongruous. How can those members possibly argue that it would be better for a Canadian to sit at home, not gainfully employed, not feeling productive, not having the honour and the self-esteem of having a productive job, when that individual could earn up to 80% of what he or she previously earned?
Also in the works here are the immigration and refugee changes we are suggesting in terms of getting rid of the hundreds of thousands of backlog cases that we inherited and trying to match the skills of those who plan to immigrate to Canada with job opportunities here. On this point, there is one thing that is being missed by a lot of Canadians.
People criticize us for wanting to keep immigrants out. Nothing could be further from the truth again. I have attended probably 100 citizenship ceremonies in the last six and a half years. Those who are calling for changes to our immigration and refugee system are new immigrants to Canada, who arrived here within the last 10 to 30 years. These people are saying that we need to ensure that we have a fair immigration system, one that gives a clear timeline as to what immigrants can expect in terms of job creation.
Changes to the fisheries and oceans act would also be implemented with the passing of this legislation. I come from an urban-rural riding. Many times farmers in my community have told me how frustrating it is when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans puts undue regulatory roadblocks in the way of their development simply because at one point a particular ditch may have had water in it and there may have been a few tadpoles in it and now they are facing many obstacles in getting on with fully implementing the projects that they want to do.
Under our government's economic action plan, Canada's deficit and taxes are going down. We heard today that Tax Freedom Day is today, June 11. I remember so clearly when I was running for office in 2005-06 that Tax Freedom Day was June 26. Here we are, fully two weeks earlier in reducing the tax burden on Canadians we have been called here to represent.
It is an honour for me to support the government's initiative to extend the sitting hours so that we can actually get the job done. Canadians expect that. They sent us here to do that. If we work together, we can get it done.