|| That the question of privilege regarding the free movement of Members of Parliament within the Parliamentary Precinct raised on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
He said: Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that your ruling today is truly a testament to your position as Speaker, and to the Speakers who have gone before you. Truly, the role of the Speaker is one of the utmost principles in our parliamentary democracy, and I think today, in the long line of Speakers who have gone before, you have found the appropriate ruling.
After all, often the role of the Speaker is determined to be one of a referee, and we often hear that referred to in tour groups and among university lecturers. However, the role of the Speaker is so much more than that. The Speaker is truly the defender of the rights and privileges of this place.
I am reminded from time to time of the words of a great English Speaker, William Lenthall, who said with great conviction to the King in his place in his time, when met with King Charles I, the executive of the day:
|| ...I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am....
Today the Speaker made such a ruling and stood up to the face of opposition from the government ministers.
Let me begin my remarks by saying that I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for .
It is in a way unfortunate that we have to have a redo of this debate. This debate was properly started last week when the Speaker did rightly find a prima facie case of privilege, and it is troubling in two manners: first, the nature of the incident itself, that two members of Parliament were prevented from undertaking their duties of voting in this House; and second, by the unfortunate actions that were undertaken by the government in preventing this matter from coming to a vote.
As the Speaker rightly found in his ruling, this is unprecedented. Never before in the history of this place has a matter of privilege been dealt with in such a way. Never before in this place has the government shut down and prevented all 338 members of this House from voting on a matter of the privileges of us as parliamentarians. Every other case of privilege has been dealt with one way or another through a vote, either in the affirmative or in the negative, but not in this case.
This is most unfortunate. It is unfortunate for so many reasons. If, as members in this House noted before, the government is allowed to proceed in this manner on this case, how many times going forward will votes on questions of privilege be prevented from coming to a vote in this House by the duly elected members of this House?
I want to state the great respect I have for this institution and for those who serve this institution. I want to state as well the respect I have, specifically, for the parliamentary protective service, in whom I have the utmost of confidence for defending us and keeping us safe as parliamentarians.
In my short time as a parliamentarian—I have only been elected for about a year and a half—I have always felt safe in the exercising of my duties here in this place, and indeed, another speaker in last week's debate, quoted from the back of our ID badges, and I think it is worthwhile to reread that into the record:
|| Under the law of parliamentary privilege, the bearer has free and open access at all times, without obstruction or interference to the precincts of the House of Parliament of which the bearer is a member.
In fact, the law of parliamentary privilege is enshrined constitutionally in section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, also more commonly known to us in its original title, the British North America Act, 1867.
Let us remember exactly what took place on budget day. Two members of Parliament, at least, were affected. We know of at least two. There could have been others as well. There was indication from the Speaker's original ruling that there were others potentially on the buses who were also denied access. However, at least two members, the members from and , were unable to attend a vote in this House, in this place.
The outcome of that particular vote is not relevant. The fact is that they were prevented from doing their duty, the duty that they as elected members of this place are entrusted to do on behalf of their constituents. All of us have that duty to the constituents we are honoured and privileged to represent.
Let us imagine for just a moment how this could have played out differently. Imagine there had been a vote of confidence and members were prevented by one way or another from attending this place to vote. Certainly in this case there is a majority government and one or two members not exercising their vote may not seem like a significant matter. Let us think back into the not-so-distant past to May 2005. There was a budget vote, a confidence vote in this very House. The Paul Martin Liberals were on the ropes. It looked as if they could be defeated. A couple of lucky floor crossings and the support of an independent member of Parliament meant that it ended up in a tie vote. Mr. Speaker Milliken at the time was forced into the position of breaking that tie vote in the affirmative. One vote would have made the difference, in that case, of an election, the dissolution of Parliament, or the continuation of that government. It would have been one vote.
In fact, in this Parliament not too long ago on Bill , on a Monday morning, or afternoon by the time we voted, we had a tie vote in this House on a piece of government legislation. One vote would have made the difference between that piece of legislation moving on to third reading and that piece of legislation being defeated in this place. The Speaker at the time was forced to once again break a tie. Interestingly, in a majority government, that does not happen very often, but it happened in that case. I would point out that it is somewhat ironic that the government is currently proposing changes, and one of the changes it has mentioned is perhaps sitting earlier in the morning, but if we use the example of Bill C-10, that vote was in the early afternoon, so I would be surprised how many members might be in this House at that time.
We are faced with the question now of where we go from here, where we move forward in the appropriate manner. As my motion clearly states, it is appropriate at this point that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as it is the appropriate location. I know there have been flimsy procedural efforts for the committee to self-direct to undertake its own study of privilege, but as we know, the Standing Orders clearly state that matters of privilege do not fall under the mandate of the procedure and House affairs committee, and it falls on the House to direct the appropriate committee to undertake a study of the privilege. After all, the rights and privileges of this House are a matter for this House to undertake.
I do feel a bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day; we are redoing the same battle again and again, the same debate that has been undertaken. I have been told I am better looking than Bill Murray. I am not so sure about that, but I will say this. On a matter as important as the privileges of this House, a procedurally flimsy effort by the government to shut down the debate is truly unfortunate. Two members were denied the right to vote and now, by the Liberals' efforts, the attempt was to deny 338 members the right to vote. That is truly unfortunate.
It is unfortunate that it is being done at the same time that the procedure and House affairs committee is undertaking a Standing Order change, a change that would be done unilaterally without the support of opposition parties. The government states that it wants to have a discussion on the matter. A discussion can only happen if both sides are listening and discussing. The privileges of this House are of the utmost importance to each and every member of this House. It is not a matter for the government to decide. Rather, it is a matter for this House to decide by way of a vote.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this question of privilege. I also want to commend the Speaker for the precedent-setting decision today, in which he recognized that, yes, debate had been shut down by the government on the question of privilege, which prevented the House from having a vote, taking the next step, allowing every member to stand to voice his or her yea or nay on the subject of the question of privilege and the next process.
I have been a member of Parliament for 17 years and I have seen many questions of privilege come before the House. The question of privilege that was brought forward was on budget day, and that was unusual. When the member for brought forward her question of privilege and spoke to it, and she said it again on April 6, she quoted former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau saying that 50 yards from the parliamentary precinct the MPs were nobodies. I think what Prime Minister Trudeau was saying at that time was that although we were involved in the running of government and bringing forward legislation on the Hill, when we were away from Parliament, we were really just average Joes, that we were really just, as he said, nobodies.
When members of Parliament go back to their constituencies, they understand they need to earn the respect of their constituents. They cannot believe that respect will be afforded to them until they earn it. They earn it during the election, but they need to earn it between elections. The Speaker knows the work we do as members of Parliament. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau may have believed that we were nobodies away from Parliament, but make no mistake, there are certain privileges given to members of Parliament in the parliamentary precinct.
There are certain privileges we are afforded because of our position. For example, members have immunity in the House. We can say pretty well anything we want to say in the House with complete immunity. It may not be in order and the Speaker may cut us off, but we are given immunity for the things we say in the House. Many times one member will tell another member to say something outside of the House, because members know that outside of the House they do not have that privilege. In the House there is privilege.
When a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been found, it is a very serious thing. On budget day, there was another ruling. The member for , though she has been in the House for a long time and ran for Speaker, was snapping pictures in the House. The Speaker rightfully said that was not in order and shut it down. Also, that very same day, the budget was handed out early. The Liberal Party received the budget early. We know that was out of order as well.
However, when two members are on their way to the House of Commons to vote and are prevented from doing that, this becomes, as my colleague said, a very serious matter. It is typically a matter that is then studied and if there are certain reasons it occurred, it is prevented from happening again.
On budget day, when the prima facie case was brought forward, the member for said that he had missed the vote, as did the member for , because they were holding the buses on account of the empty motorcade, or the cars for the , needing to return in order for them to be brought to the House of Commons.
He said that when he was on the bus, they were being stalled. He got out and asked security why they were being held up. The security guards, who were using walkie-talkies and radios, said that it was because the 's empty motorcade was waiting. The members had to wait and, consequently, missed the vote.
There are a couple of other times where we have seen this happen. I remember a former colleague, as will some of my colleagues here, Yvon Godin. We remember him well. In 2014, on the day the German president or chancellor was here, he tried to get to the Hill and was prevented from that. Mr. Godin said that he was a member of Parliament, that he had to get on to the Hill. The security officials, at the time, the RCMP, said that they did not care whether he was a member of Parliament. Members in the House cared. Mr. Godin cared. He stood in the House and the old temperature was rising. His face was getting redder and he passionately spoke about the privileges of a member of Parliament. It made us all feel pretty good that he was defending our rights as members of Parliament.
What happened? The Speaker found there was a prima facie case. It went to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and proper measures were put in place so security realized the importance of members getting to this place.
In 2012, again, the access of members to the House was impeded when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was on the Hill. I think all of us would understand that massive security measures had to be in place when he was here. Again, a number of members of Parliament were impeded from getting up to the Hill and, again, the Speaker found a prima facie case of a breach of the privileges of members.
Why? Because we are here not only to collect a paycheque, but to do the business of the people of Canada. We are here to represent our constituents. We are here to stand up and make a difference. We are here to hold the government to account. We are here to ensure we bring things forward that are in the best interests of Canadians.
The other day the government prevented this from going to PROC. It prevented us from having a vote to ensure this went to the committee.
Why? Right now PROC is taken up by a government that is trying to push through changes to the Standing Orders that give opposition members privileges, that lay out the rules and groundwork for those privileges. For these types of changes, historically, prime ministers, whether it be Prime Minister Harper, or Prime Minister Chrétien, or other prime ministers, have said that we need unanimity to do this. Because we are elected members of Parliament, we cannot unilaterally change everything in the House. Again, members are expected to represent their constituents and to hold the government to account, a government in waiting on this side and the government in power on that side. However, that does allow the current government the privilege of changing, unilaterally, the Standing Orders in the House.
Again, we know the would like to show up and answer questions in question period for one day instead of throughout the week. We know he wants to shut down Fridays so members of Parliament are not here holding the government to account. The more we carry on with this Parliament, the more we see it is really just an inconvenience to the . He would like to go on without being slowed down in any manner.
Before I conclude my speech, I move:
|| That the motion be amended by adding the following: “and that the committee make this matter a priority over all other business including its review of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.”
Madam Speaker, as you pointed out, this motion is before us again because, last week, the Liberals decided to shut down debate on a question of privilege concerning MPs' access to Parliament Hill.
I also want to remind everyone that the Chair made it clear this was unprecedented. We have a government that not only decided to shut down debate on a question of privilege about MPs' access to Parliament Hill, but did so cavalierly.
The Chair ruled on the matter and emphasized that it is of utmost importance. As our Standing Orders clearly state, questions of privilege take precedence over everything else, not because we like to spend time talking about ourselves, but because privilege is what enables us to do our job. Access to the Hill and our presence in the House of Commons are central to our ability to do our job.
Once again, recognizing what the Speaker has rightly highlighted about being on topic, I think these issues start to get a bit mixed up. The reason they do is that we have a government that has decided to end the debate on the question of privilege that is now before this House. Why? What is happening over on the government side, on the Liberal benches, that it would decide to do something that is unprecedented, that has never been done before, and end the debate on a question of privilege, which, as our rules say, is the core issue with which the House should be seized?
That is a question that, unfortunately, despite our attempts, we did not get an answer to from the Liberal speaker who just rose, I assume on behalf of the government. That is problematic.
I think the government decided to put an end to this discussion because it could not take the heat. It is starting to have a hard time reconciling the things it said during the election campaign and the way it treats Parliament. This is directly affecting our ability to do our job.
I want to stick to the issue of access to the Hill, which we have talked about at length, because I need to express my deep frustration. In a few weeks, it will be six years since I became a member of Parliament. I have seen this matter come up time and time again, and I still do not understand why a solution cannot be found, although I am well aware that these things are never perfect.
Before I go any further, I think it is extremely important to recognize the work done by the RCMP and the parliamentary security officers in Centre Block and everywhere on the Hill. This is not about pointing the finger at anyone, and that is precisely why we have a motion that calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study the matter.
That is why my Conservative colleague moved an amendment for this to be the first item on the committee's agenda. It is because this issue comes up too often and is causing a lot of problems. This could affect new members, who may not be very familiar with our privileges despite the best efforts of the people who provide us with training when we arrive here. As my colleague said earlier, it feels quite strange when security officers know what we look like and know our names. That is quite impressive and can take us by surprise.
A new member who arrives at the bottom of the Hill before a vote when a foreign dignitary is on the Hill, or when the Prime Minister's vehicles are blocking the way, may not necessarily boldly invoke his privilege as a member and go ahead in order to get to his seat. He would not say it out of a sense of self-importance, but because he represents his constituents by voting, giving a speech, or carrying out any of his duties in the House.
It reminds me of a story involving one of my former colleagues, Jean Crowder. She and I were participating in, not a protest but a gathering, on the Hill. Some folks were here on the Hill to represent an issue. There were members from all parties at this gathering. Speeches were made by representatives of all parties.
We went back up the steps, and the security guard did not recognize me. I had only been a member for two months, and I did not have my pin. Sometimes I do not have it now. Sometimes I forget it on another suit jacket. I have had that issue before, so I always keep my ID card handy. That is the alternative.
That being said, even if a member has the pin, there is a jacket over it. Ottawa, with its lovely tropical climate, can get to a balmy -40 in the winter. We nonetheless have these gatherings, because some groups are courageous enough, and issues cannot wait until June. Sometimes these folks who are coming to the Hill to represent and lobby for issues they hold dear have to be here in January.
We walked up the steps, and the security guard did not recognize me. I said, “Oh, I am sorry.” I was fiddling, looking for my pass. Jean Crowder, who was a person I had never seen be curt with people said, “No. This is a member of Parliament. He has the right to pass.” The security guard said, “Okay”, and backed off.
Again, as my Conservative colleague so rightly pointed out, it is not a lack of humility that leads us to have this instinct, which we certainly do not have as new members. It is a question of being able to come here to do our jobs and represent Canadians.
That is why we call it privilege. That is why the government ending the discussion of that very privilege, and the Speaker stating that it is unprecedented, should say a lot about what the government is doing.
The Liberals shut down debate on our ability to do our work. Our privilege is our ability to do our work, which is to represent our constituents. The fact that the government shut down debate on protecting these privileges tells the House and the people listening a lot about this government's priorities.
That is the link to the discussion we are having right now. That is the government's approach. It wants to talk about privilege and the ability of members to do their job. The government wants to hear their ideas, but it does not want to provide them with a proper process that would let them have their say. As I said earlier, it is a dialogue of the deaf.
It is very problematic because something very important is being called into question. We were given examples of what happens in Great Britain under the Westminster system.
Without straying too far off topic, I just want to add that during debate on Bill and in the committee that analyzes and studies matters of national security, we said that we could elect the chair the same way they do in Great Britain. The government said that we must not move too quickly, that Canada was new to the idea, while Great Britain had several years to figure out how it would work. The hypocrisy is pathetic.
It is disappointing to see that when it works in the government's favour the government provides examples from around the world, but when it does not suit the narrative, the government ignores other examples. That is why it is important to have a structured process that allows the opposition parties to have their say.
This is not something new. This is how it has always been done, whether it was Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, or anyone who came before them. This is how we have always changed the rules of the game. That is what they are. I know that game analogies are something we might chafe under. It is not always the best example to use, because what we do is not a game, but these are the rules that govern this place.
The Liberals now might feel that this is a good thing and that they can do it unilaterally and ram it through. What happens, after they create that precedent, when it is a Conservative prime minister, or, being an eternal optimist, a New Democrat prime minister or another Liberal prime minister with whom these members may not necessarily agree? Many of them, I have no doubt, ran because they appreciated the approach of this but maybe another Liberal leader not so much.
As I saw in The Hill Times earlier today, a former Liberal MP was on the Hill today saying that this filibuster is a waste of time. That sounded like a criticism of the opposition, but it was not. He said he did not understand why his party created a toxic environment that is now leading the opposition to this recourse. That is the problem. They are trying to paint the opposition as the bad guys here, but we are just using the limited tools we have at our disposal, which they are trying to take away. They tried to do it with this question of privilege we are debating today by cutting off debate. That says a lot about their approach.
That debate, at its very core, is about our ability to do our jobs. It is not “Let us move to government orders, because we are here to be efficient and to pass legislation.” I am here to defend my privilege, because my privilege is not my privilege; it is the ability of my constituents to be heard, and ending that debate ends my ability to defend their ability to be heard in this place, and that is simply unacceptable.
The Liberals keeps using words like “modernization” and “discussion”, but those are just words. We cannot have a discussion until parameters are set for that discussion. A union would not have conversations with the employer in the hallway. There is a process and guidelines for collective bargaining. Similarly, teachers cannot teach their students whatever they want. They have to follow a curriculum. Every discussion on fundamental issues is structured.
Why does the government fail to see that this is not about the substance, but the process that we will use to get to our findings? Every other prime minister recognized that the process was the cornerstone of all this. Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin recognized it, and despite our considerable political differences, I will even acknowledge that Stephen Harper recognized it.
There are a lot of new members on the other side of the House, and I have had the opportunity to meet many of them either at functions on Parliament Hill or in committee. Most of them have told me that they ran as Liberals to do politics differently because their country and their Parliament was suffering. I told them they were exacerbating the problem they were meant to fix.
Everyone here is to blame for the toxic environment that currently exists, but the fault lies primarily with the government, which is unilaterally imposing sweeping changes. The government claims it is only acting to keep its election promises, but it never promised to impose anything on the opposition. The government promised to make Parliament work better. It lights fires and blames the opposition, and then cuts short debates on questions of privilege and the workings of Parliament. That is the opposite of making Parliament work better. That is the opposite of what motivated most of the Liberal members to go into politics, many of them for the first time.
What message is the government sending to those who really want to support us so that we can improve Parliament? It is not the same message that the Liberals were sending during the election campaign. It is not the same message as the one the government is trying to send with its supposed discussions. It is the very opposite.
I want to look at a great example south of the border, because the government seems intent on looking at the examples from other countries, whether they be Westminster models or otherwise. I look at what happened last week when the U.S. Senate was approving a Supreme Court nominee, which, dare I say, is probably one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a legislative body, given the importance that the Supreme Court has both here in Canada but also, looking at that example, in the United States.
What happened when there was a risk that Democrats in the Senate might engage in a filibuster, might use procedural tactics to delay the approval of a Supreme Court nominee where the consensus did not seem to be unanimous? I do not want to get into that debate, because that is not my business. What happened was that Republicans decided to use what they called the nuclear option. Instead of having the super majority that is normally required—60 votes to approve a Supreme Court nominee—they used their majority to change the rules of the game and make it so that it only required a simple majority of 50% plus one, 51% in that case.
What happened then? Respected senators like John McCain said that whoever thought of that idea was an idiot. Why did he say that? He said that because when he dealt with Democrats in the Senate on a nominee from President Obama, Republicans were very disappointed that the Democrats did the same thing. There were two parties changing the rules of the game to suit their political agenda, and in both cases, they chafed under that. Why? It is because it sets a precedent and creates a problem. Down the line, they can say it is how they will always solve their problems.
Coming back to Canada, what the government does not seem to understand is that changing the rules of the game might suit it this time, but it might not suit it next time when it loses an election after the broken promises start to pile up and people finally start getting fed up with the snake oil that they have been sold. That becomes a problem because it sets a precedent.
Instead of looking farther back and saying that Jean Chrétien sought Parliamentary consensus before making changes in the early 2000s, the next Conservative, Liberal, or NDP government can use this precedent and tell everyone not to worry because the government of the current , the member for Papineau, decided that a simple majority was enough to change the rules of the House.
I mentioned the United States because if the Liberals want to follow examples set elsewhere, they should look to respected individuals. For example, John McCain said it was idiotic to think that changing the rules was a good short-term solution to a problem that, in this case, does not exist. We have to think of the long-term consequences.
The long-term consequences have to do with the fact that we have to make a decision about a recurring question of privilege related to access to Parliament Hill. Precedent is not what worries me. I said at the outset that I was worried about the fact that we keep coming back to this issue of access to Parliament Hill, as several of our colleagues pointed out. I am concerned about the precedent the Speaker referred to, the precedent of shutting down debate. This is a problem. It is unacceptable, and it will cause problems for future generations of members of Parliament.
The government is using various tools. It forces votes in the House when, for example, we are debating motions that it does not like, since the government seems to think it is here to get its agenda passed as quickly as possible. If we read between the lines, this means imposing its will without debate using time allocation motions. The government wants to cut the debate short. The reason we are using these tactics and having this debate, which has been going on for three weeks at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, is closely linked to the debate we are having today on the question of privilege. These are the tools we have to call on the government to seriously rethink the process. We have fundamentally different ideas on the substance of the issue. We could debate that. What unites the opposition is that we refuse to debate it until we know that this will not be dealt with unilaterally. This is central to parliamentary privilege. This is central to what is driving us here today, that is, questions related to access to the Hill, the length of the debate, and the fact that the government cut the debate short. Why? Because the privilege of the member for Beloeil—Chambly is not my privilege; it is the privilege of the people of Beloeil—Chambly. This goes for all of my colleagues and their respective ridings. This is crucial, and the opposition is united in saying no.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to lend my voice to this very important debate. May I ask you to remind me when there is just about a minute left in my presentation as I have an amendment to the current amendment to the motion which I want to bring forward.
Before I begin my remarks on privilege and how it affects each and every one of the members of this place, I want to go back to a few words that my colleague, my friend from , mentioned when he brought forward the motion, seeking a Speaker's ruling on the prima facie case of privilege. That is when he applauded the Speaker's ruling that came down, saying that yes, in the Speaker's opinion, there was a prima facie case of privilege when the government of the day prevented a vote on two members' privileges being impugned by not being allowed to vote, by being denied access to this place.
That ruling within the last hour has been called by some as historic. I would concur in that. I think some would also perhaps suggest it would be courageous. I will stop short of calling it that, but I believe this ruling today underscores and reaffirms in the eyes and the minds of many Canadians the total impartiality of the Speaker.
I think most Canadians understand when a Speaker is elected to the chair in this place, he comes with a background of partisanship. He comes obviously from a political background and represents a political party, not necessarily in the chair but back in his home constituency.
I believe there is a tendency for some Canadians to believe that because of the background of political partisanship, that a Speaker, once elected to the chair, would find it almost impossible to separate his political allegiance to his duties to be impartial to all members.
I must applaud the Speaker of this Parliament because he did exactly that. He made a difficult ruling, but he underscored the fact that his role was to be impartial, to represent all members of Parliament. He did that today, and for that ruling, I applaud him, and I applaud him mightily.
We are here to talk about this motion and the fact that the initial motion of privilege, the debate on the privilege brought forward from two of my Conservative colleagues, was in fact not only delayed, but it was snuffed out by the government of the day. That in itself was unprecedented.
It is so ironic that the privilege debate was being conducted because two members were prevented from voting in this place. What was the response of the government, the great irony? It prevented 338 members from voting on the privilege. It is truly something I have never seen before, and I sincerely hope I will never see again.
Madam Speaker, you have also admonished some of us, very slightly, very gently, to try to speak to the motion before us today and not get off track with what is happening in procedure and House affairs, with the filibuster over the government's attempt to unilaterally change the Standing Orders of this place. I would suggest that there is a lot of commonality between what is happening in procedure and House affairs and what we saw the government do just a few days ago by shutting down debate on privilege.
The commonality obviously is the fact that the government is acting in such a ham-handed, heavy-handed, mean-spirited way that it is disallowing and disenfranchising members of this place to exercise their ability, not only to debate but to vote. That is a very dangerous precedent.
For the benefit of members who may perhaps be minor historians on procedures of this place, I would like to point out something as an example of why this is so dangerous. I do not believe many Canadians and perhaps many parliamentarians understand the history of time allocation and when time allocation was actually introduced into the Standing Orders in this place. I believe it happened in the mid-1960s, although I do not know the exact year. It was brought in unilaterally by a Liberal government.