Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to this question of privilege which I originally raised three weeks ago.
It is unfortunate that we must raise this issue today under the threat of a closure guillotine which was introduced once again by the Liberal . It hearkens to a time many decades ago, 60 years in fact, when a similar issue came before the House and closure was undertaken by a then Liberal government. In 1956, a Conservative member of Parliament by the name of Donald Fleming had this to say of closure in the House:
|| The minority in the house does not speak by leave of the majority.... No, the minority in a free parliament speaks as of right.
What has been done today has been to deprive the minority in the House of their right. Those who have forced closure on the House are attempting to create a Parliament in which there is no place for an opposition. This is what we see happening by the Liberal government. The government is attempting to turn the House not into a debating chamber, not into a place of free expression by all hon. members, but rather into a place in which the Liberal executive dominates the legislative branch.
The quotation I just read came from the pipeline debate in 1956 in this chamber, where members of all parties debated vociferously for weeks on end. In fact, that debate itself ended in a grave question of privilege, one which continues to have ramifications to this very day.
I would dare say that if C.D. Howe were alive today to see the actions being undertaken by the Liberal government, he would blush with shame. Even C.D. Howe would be ashamed of the heavy-handed tactics being undertaken by the Liberal government.
We debate today a question of privilege, the privilege of hon. members of this place to freely attend and to have free movement within the parliamentary precinct. It was a question of privilege I raised not lightly in response to the first question of privilege being killed by the Liberal government.
Of fundamental importance is that we as parliamentarians, we as members of Parliament, we as the duly elected representatives of our constituents, are free to debate, are free to speak in this place, and are free to vote, and respect the wishes of our constituents. This did not happen on March 22, budget day. Two members of Parliament, the member for and the member for , were denied their right to vote.
Free movement within this place is absolutely essential when the bells are ringing, when we are being called to a vote. It is a fundamental right which should not be tampered or tempered with, yet that is what happened. Two members of Parliament were denied their right to vote in this chamber. Imagine for a minute, two members of Parliament, representing 105,000 constituents each, did not have the opportunity to rise in their place, as is their right, and cast their vote.
In accordance with the time-honoured tradition of the House, those two members, at the first available opportunity, raised a question of privilege in the House. In the days following, I, as well as the member for , presented more information in support of the prima facie question of privilege.
On April 6, the Speaker correctly ruled that there were sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege. At that time, the member of Parliament for was invited to move the motion on the question of privilege and debate ensued afterward. Members at that time rose in their places, shared their thoughts, but no vote was held. Debate was cut off and the motion itself was killed with no immediate way of reviving that motion. The member for moved a motion to proceed to orders of the day. This was not an innocent undertaking by the hon. member. It was a direction by the Liberal executive, knowing full well that by moving to orders of the day, this question of privilege would be killed. It would be finished.
The Liberal majority in this House along party lines voted in favour of killing a question of privilege. The Liberals voted in favour of killing the opportunity to discuss the fundamental rights and privileges that were breached on March 22 within this parliamentary precinct. This did not simply push the matter further down on the Order Paper; it removed it altogether from the Order Paper. To hear the this morning, stand in her place and say they agree with this question of privilege, they agree that it should go to PROC, belies the actions that she and her caucus colleagues undertook on that fateful day when they killed the question of privilege.
Never before in Canadian parliamentary history has such an arrogant course of action been undertaken by a government of any stripe. The Liberal government made history when it did this, and not the type of history that I think it would like to make. Indeed it was a grave injustice to so recklessly dismiss a question of vital importance that affects all 338 of us who serve in this chamber, yet it is another example of the Liberal government, the Liberal executive, dominating the legislative branch of this place, and in so doing disregarding the views and the role of the House of Commons and our important role in parliamentary democracy.
Indeed, two members were denied the right to vote on that day, but by the Liberal government's actions, all 338 members were denied the right to vote. Perhaps it would do well for the Liberal members across the way, those who do not serve in cabinet, to remember they too are members in this House. They may sit as Liberal MPs, but they are simply members of Parliament like each and every one of us, and their rights were denied too when the Liberal government moved to orders of the day.
Then something else happened. The Liberals tried a procedurally flimsy method to get this issue to PROC, the procedure and House affairs committee. Indeed the deputy whip of the Liberal Party, the member for , gave notice of a motion in the procedure committee to self-direct the procedure and House affairs committee to study this matter. That is a procedurally flimsy method that is not supported by the mandate of the committee, but nonetheless it was attempted.
In fact, that member tried to say that she did not like the idea of the House directing the study of a committee. She did not like the idea of the House of Commons directing a timeline for a committee study. Perhaps she, as deputy whip of the Liberal Party, may have been mistaken in assuming that committees trump the House of Commons, which is certainly not the case. We as members of Parliament who sit in this House direct the work of the legislative branch of government, not the Liberal Party acting on the direction of the PMO, on the direction of the , but that is exactly what happened.
We see this happening time and again, whether it was Motion No. 6 or whether it was the discussion paper. I was going to say the discussion paper tabled by the , but it was never tabled. She did not show the courtesy to us as members of Parliament, to us as parliamentarians, to table her discussion paper here in the House of Commons. She wants to change the rules of this place, but she will not table the document on which she wishes to have a discussion. Instead, she released it online rather than in this great, august chamber. It is this chamber, this House of Commons, that gives a government the ability to govern. It is only with the confidence of this chamber of each and every member of Parliament through the confidence convention that the government may undertake action.
I must be abundantly clear that the actions of the Liberal government hold a dangerous precedent. To have so recklessly dismissed such an issue does not bode well for the future. Indeed, we can imagine situations in which minority governments may exist, where tight votes may be undertaken, where a single vote or two votes could affect the outcome.
I remember well, long before I was elected, that in 2005, a vote on the budget was held in the House. It was a tie vote, thanks to the then independent MP Chuck Cadman, who voted with the government at that time. The Speaker was forced to break that tie. One vote would have changed the direction of that vote. One vote would have resulted in the government falling on a vote of confidence. This is where we find ourselves today. Members of Parliament being prevented from coming to this place to vote is a fundamental challenge must be addressed.
When this question of privilege was killed by the Liberal government, it set a terrible precedent. It is why, at the very first opportunity, I rose in the House and raised a second question of privilege. At the very first opportunity, I sought to reignite, to revive, the important question of privilege, because that is what it was. It was a question of privilege of two members who were denied the right to vote in the chamber.
On April 11, the Speaker, expressing great wisdom and citing precedent on similar matters, made his ruling. He indeed found once again that a prima facie question of privilege existed.
I want to quote exactly what the Speaker said in his ruling. He stated, “...the situation in which the House finds itself is unprecedented. The Chair can find no instance of debate on a matter of privilege superseded by the adoption of a motion to proceed to orders of the day.” Never before had it occurred. The Speaker found no precedent on this matter. He went on to state, “...the Speaker has a duty to uphold the fundamental rights and privileges of the House and of its members.”
Too often we see the role of the Speaker as a referee, as a playground monitor, as someone trying to maintain order, and certainly the Speaker has that role to play in maintaining order in this place and ensuring the smooth flow of debate. However, more important and more fundamental, the Speaker of the House is the defender and protector of the rights and privileges of each and every member of the House.
Therefore, the Speaker, in his ruling, invited me, as the person who raised the subsequent question of privilege, to move a motion that this question of privilege be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We know from past practice and similar questions that have been raised in the past that this is the appropriate place in which questions of privilege ought to be dealt with.
I was recently reviewing the selected decisions of Mr. Speaker Peter Milliken. My colleague, the member for , was kind enough to loan me his copy. He mentioned that he had already read it from cover to cover and no longer had use for it.
In that case, on December 1, 2004, a member was denied the right to enter the chamber due to the visit of an American president at the time. The Speaker of the day, Mr. Speaker Milliken, correctly found, in a similar case, that the matter should be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Then the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord moved such a motion and the motion was sent to the procedure and House affairs committee, which undertook an extensive study and reported back to the House with specific undertakings that ought to be taken by security personnel and the RCMP.
That is where we find ourselves today.
It should be noted, as well, that the motion I moved was subsequently amended, rightfully and correctly so, by my colleague, the member for , who said that this ought to take priority over all other business of the procedure and House affairs committee.
Why was that necessary? In normal times, that amendment would not be necessary. However, in this case, it was because of the Standing Orders standoff precipitated by the Liberal 's failed discussion paper.
That amendment was subsequently amended as well by a subamendment by my colleague, the member for . I would like to extend our well wishes to the member for Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan and wish him a speedy recovery. He has served in the House for 13 years, always ably serving, especially on procedure and House affairs matters, as well as a former parliamentary secretary to the government House leader. I know all members would join us in sending him our best wishes and a hope for speedy recovery, and to see him back in this place debating the important matters as soon as possible.
These amendments are absolutely essential, given the context of where we stand and given where the procedure and House affairs committee finds itself. We find ourselves in a situation where the Liberal government is trying to enforce and ram changes down the throats of the opposition. It is trying to change the opposition from an effective opposition to an audience. That is what has been undertaken for three weeks in the procedure and House affairs committee.
Now, without warning and without notice, that meeting was adjourned without even the opportunity for my friend, my colleague, the member for , to raise a point of order during that meeting before the gavel was quickly hit on the table.
When the presented her discussion paper on modernizing Parliament, members from this side, and I think most Canadians, saw it as a smokescreen, a flimsy attempt to take more power and put it in the hands of the executive, put it in the hands of the Liberal Party. What is more interesting is the timeline in which the Liberals insisted this be done. Fundamental changes to the way we operate in the House was to be done by June.
Ostensibly, I suspect, it was so the Liberals could ram these changes down our throats before the end of this spring session, so they could prorogue in the fall to undertake a fresh Speech from the Throne to try to recover their lost legislative agenda.
It is interesting, as well, that the undertakings of the committee are so much in lockstep with the actions of the government. Within hours of the discussion paper being released to the public, it quickly became clear that a member tabled the motion in order to have it dealt with in an expedited fashion at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It was that challenge, that fundamental mistake about which I think all of us as parliamentarians feel regretful.
While I am on my feet, I would like to move to a final topic of discussion, and that is how fundamental the rights and privileges of all Canadians are and how much they ought to be respected in this place. Each and every member of Parliament stands here to represent, in my case 105,000, our constituents. Our voices ought not be diminished. The changes being proposed by the Liberal government would do just that.
Fundamentally, this is a question of privilege, and we must at all times respect the privileges of the members of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume debate on the question of privilege raised by my colleagues concerning the privileges that the House gives to MPs.
First, let me express my shock that our friend from does not already have Selected Decisions of Speaker Peter Milliken. I am surprised he does not have first copies signed already, perhaps for Christmas.
Raising this question of privilege segues nicely into the important debate on the fundamental changes that the government wants to make. It sneakily proposed the changes at a Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs meeting by tabling a motion about reforms to the way Parliament and the House of Commons work.
This is not the first time the government has attempted to change the rules to suit its own purposes. Indeed, it seems the government views Parliament as a mere inconvenience to be disposed of, deigned to, and privileged to behold the presence of the Liberal members of Parliament at all times.
I am very pleased to serve on the operations and estimates committee. On this committee, OGGO, we have studied great things such as Canada Post, Shared Services, and, a little while ago, estimates reform.
The Conservatives and my colleagues in the NDP have agreed with the Treasury Board that we do need to reform the way we do estimates to make them more transparent and to align them better with the budget. Unfortunately, what had been proposed by the Liberal government was to take away two full months of estimates overview, leaving the opposition with merely a month to look at estimates. This was explained by the government as a better way to do things.
Taking away oversight from the opposition on spending is not necessarily a better way to do things.
When we tried to argue that this is not a good way, we received very clear notice from the government that it intended to change the standing order without consent of all parties.
Our colleague from , who was chair of the committee—and I express my well-wishes to him as well—asked the again and again if he could guarantee that we will not change the standing order for estimates reform, and again and again we heard, “No, we will not commit to that.” When we suggested that perhaps there could be another way to change the estimates, the comment from the President of the Treasury Board was that estimates were merely busy work, not pertinent to Canadians. This is the whole attitude of the Liberal government: it is that anything it disagrees with is not pertinent work.
I want to quote from King Edward's first writ of summons for the Model Parliament, which said, “Inasmuch as a most righteous law of the emperors ordains what touches all should be approved of all, so it evidently appears that common dangers should be met by measures agreed upon in common.”
Basically, there is a very good argument to be made that the Westminster Palace or the Westminster system exists for spending oversight, and we have seen that the Liberals, just as they are trying to change the rules on the way Parliament works, are trying to change the Standing Orders on estimates, the way we oversee spending, to make things more convenient for them.
Now, let us go back a bit further, to just after the 2015 election.
Imagine the look on the ministers' faces they found out they had been selected to do God's work in the brand new cabinet, full of all the bells and whistles. On the day they were sworn in, Liberal members were sworn in at Rideau Hall after riding to the ceremony in a city bus. The bus was to serve as a reminder of the need to remain humble in the face of repeated attempts to play up their status.
These ministers worked hard to avoid indulging in their privileges. Many of them likely felt entitled to all the trimmings that come with working for this , so really, we must respect their ability to abstain from taking advantage of their positions of power.
Let us remember that the health minister did not rent stretch limousines, but rather just luxury sedans. Instead of wasting several hundred taxpayer dollars per car ride, she only wasted a few hundred.
These actions truly represent the work of someone humbled by her position and experiences and cognitively aware of the ample resources she could have taken advantage of, yet she nobly refrained.
I am, of course, being satirical.
Rather than demonstrating an acute awareness of the powers and privileges to which their positions as members of the highest governing council in this country entitles them and of the thin line between proper compensation for their heroic efforts on behalf of the Liberal Party and excessive indulgence in the fruits of taxpayer-paid luxuries, these ministers have all too often seen fit to take advantage of their extraordinary positions.
We know that they've taken advantage of their positions because we've discovered dozens of examples of nefarious uses of parliamentary and public resources.
As per our job description as members who sit on the left side of the Speaker, we oppose. We ask questions. We demand clarity. We seek accountability. We search for and find evidence of wrongdoing, and bring these questions to this place, our temple of democracy, because that is exactly what we are supposed to do.
It is only natural that members opposite would get defensive on the off chance that their misdemeanours and casual immoderation at the expense of taxpayer dollars would be discovered by a member of this side of the House. All we ask for is clarification.
Why did the minister rent expensive limos on the taxpayers' dollar?
Why did the think it was appropriate to attend Liberal fundraisers at a downtown Toronto law office that provided exclusive access to a minister of the 's inner circle?
Why did the think it was appropriate to violate federal law and take a private aircraft to his vacation on billionaire island, especially when there were other options available? It was a private island owned, by the way, by a registered lobbyist whose organization receives hundreds of millions of Canadian taxpayer dollars.
Why did the mislead Canadians when he said that a private aircraft was the only option to go for this vacation?
These are reasonable questions, ones that members opposite would no doubt have asked if a Conservative government had been in charge and was committing such abuses of power. However, these members and ministers cannot be bothered to answer these questions from the opposition. They stick to prepared talking points handed down by the PMO and rarely take the initiative to deviate from the Liberal norm.
It is typical, really. The government abuses power and privileges that have been accorded to it not by law but rather by the sheer intimidation of the power of its office. It hides behind legal technicalities and shunts responsibilities to those who carry out the work and neglects to take responsibility for ordering its dirty work to be carried out. Then when it gets caught, it shouts and screams, full of sound and fury on this venerable stage, with Canadians watching, its words signifying nothing.
When questions about protecting the powers enshrined in the history and traditions of this place come before us and are dismissed with such a cavalier disregard for the democratic norms that have underpinned the stability and prosperity of our nation, it is truly disturbing. It leaves us asking, “What is next? What is the next tradition that Liberals will give up because it is inconvenient or obstructive to the good work of the Liberal manifesto?”
Perhaps we should not meet at all. Perhaps we should just set up iPads, have MPs phone in during question period, vote electronically, and submit debate speeches by email. Really, by extension of the Liberal logic of updating this place, there is no need for MPs to show up at all. Every accommodation could be made to ensure that MPs never need to get out of the bed in the morning and come here.
I am sure the Liberals would love that: one hour less each day for members to scrutinize the front bench and ask questions on behalf of our constituents, several hours fewer each day for members to debate legislation before the House, much less time for MPs to discover scandals and abuse of privilege, one less day for MPs to introduce those pesky private members' bills that the Liberals so readily disparage.
Just think of the size of limousine the could have rented and charged to taxpayers if she had not had to face members of Parliament in this House. Imagine the amount of money that the Liberal Party of Canada could raise if it could charge money for every phone call, every cup of coffee that a minister has with someone who is not staff. Just think of the vacations the could take if he did not have to answer to the people of Canada through this temple of democracy.
Members opposite will say I am exaggerating, and maybe I am a bit. The government House leader did not propose rules that would allow members to stay at home all the time.
Members do have important work to do in engaging with our constituents. That is why we spend 26 weeks a year engaging with our constituents and 26 weeks a year here, forming their concerns into legislation that can make their lives better. That is the end goal.
Perhaps the aspect of the government's approach to accountability that is of most concern in this House is its willingness to disregard its principles, such as they are, in favour of whatever happens to be most expedient on a given day. Most of its suggested reforms do not objectively enhance the workings of Parliament but instead give more discretion to the government to decide on what it thinks and feels is appropriate, given the situation. “Trust us”, it says, “We'll do the right thing.” However, I really do not trust it. Really, the only people who trust the members opposite to act within generally accepted guidelines, such as transparency and accountability to the people of Canada, are the members opposite themselves. So blinded by the trappings of power are the members opposite that they too often sit by idly and applaud when the defends in the indefensible or tries to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Do members remember just a few weeks ago, when the stood to answer every question asked in question period? The Liberals used it as an attempt to demonstrate the benefits of moving to a Prime Minister's question period-type set-up and extolled the virtues of their proposal. Then the member for inconveniently stood and said, “Yes, we notice how the Standing Orders did not have to be changed for the Prime Minister to do that.”
What was the Liberal response? It was not cries of acknowledgement and acceptance, of a sudden realization that, good heavens, they could have been wrong all along and that the behavioural changes start and end at the top with no possible need to change the rules that govern this place. No, we saw the response yesterday. Unmoved by logical fallacy so clearly pointed out by members on this side of the House, the Liberals signalled their intention to move ahead with unilaterally changing the rules anyway, opposition be damned.
The Liberal House leader wants to shut down debate and discussion about their proposed changes and refuses to abide by hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition requiring unanimous consent of the House so that the Conservatives don't get “a veto” over government priorities.
It is difficult to believe the arrogance of the government and its disregard for the work done by all parties within the House. We negotiated in good faith. We made repeated overtures, together with the New Democratic Party, that would have set the table for negotiations for meaningful and tangible reforms to the way we conduct business in the House.
Our only precondition is that no move should be made without unanimous consent of all parties in the House, the time-honoured tradition of unanimous consent. The House leader ignored our olive branch because, she argues, it would give Conservatives a veto. I sometimes wish we did have a veto. Everything from wasteful spending to higher taxes to reforms that make life easier for Liberals and harder for everyone else would be struck down in a heartbeat. However, that is not how a majority government works. I accept that.
More importantly, that is not how respect for the institution of Parliament works. Our 99 seats on this side represent almost 10 million Canadians. True, not everyone voted for us, but we still represent those people. Do they not deserve equal representation over how our democracy works?
The disrespect for this institution personified by the members opposite is quite astounding. It brings me back to budget day 2017. Two members tried to get into Parliament for a vote, but were held up because the 's media bus was deemed more important than the transportation of members of the House to get to work.
In response to this motion, the member for said they should have just left earlier. That is disturbing. The statement given by the member for Winnipeg Centre demonstrates an unfortunate disregard and total disdain for anyone in the House who does not belong to the governing party. All problems would be solved in hindsight if they had left a little earlier, but sometimes things get in the way, like the Prime Minister's media bus.
Members should not be forced to miss a vote because the Prime Minister needs to saturate his media exposure. More importantly, the hundreds of thousands of Canadians that the members for and represent absolutely should not have their voices dampened because the government says so.
For the first time in the history of Parliament, the government took the step of ending the debate before a vote could be called on it. It did not allow for the question of privilege to be decided on by members of the House. It was an unprecedented attack on the members of Parliament, so much so that the member for had to raise a question of privilege on the fact that the question of privilege was not voted on. He was successful in bringing that motion forward. I want to thank him for standing up for the rights of all members of Parliament, something the government is increasingly attacking.
The government House leader has said that her government is taking unprecedented action as it carries out its agenda. She is right. It is unprecedented for the government to cut off a debate on privilege. It is exceedingly rare for governments to ram through changes to the rules that govern our democracy. I am not sure this is the kind of infamy that the government House leader is referring to, but if her government continues to act without respect for this institution then it will truly be the legacy of the Liberal government and the Prime Minister, their disdain for democracy.
The government says it must push through on reforming the Standing Orders because it made the commitment to Canadians that it would modernize this place in the last election. That is truly laughable.
I do not have time to provide an exhaustive list of the government's broken promises, but to name a few, I ask members to remember the promise to run small $10 billion deficits and to balance the budget in the fourth year of the mandate. That promise disappeared almost instantly.
Do members remember the commitment to transparency and accountability, particularly with regard to buying access to ministers through fundraisers? The Liberals were pretty quick to ditch that promise once they realized how much money they could raise by selling out ministers.
Do members remember the resolute commitment not to abuse taxpayer dollars? It seems that once the Liberals found out they could reward themselves with luxury car rides and help out a Liberal volunteer at the same time, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Of course, there was electoral reform, a promise with much fanfare, touted with much praise. It was carried out over the course of several months and ultimately abandoned.
Does anyone remember why? We are told that, according to Liberals, there was no consensus on what reform should look like. Why is this situation different? Why is it that, when there is no consensus and doing nothing favours the Liberals, they are happy to break a campaign promise; yet when there is no consensus but moving forward is greatly beneficial to the government, they criticize the opposition for standing in their way? Why do the Liberals think it is acceptable to govern with such inconsistency?
We know where we stand. We know where our colleagues in the NDP stand. I am not sure the Liberal MPs know where their government stands. The only predictability behind the current government's actions can be summed up by the basic question: how does it best benefit the Liberals? That is what the government does. It does not work for Canadians. It does not work for the good of the country. It works for itself. It limits debate when it sounds bad for the government. It rams down changes designed to make it easier for the government to hide from accountability.
I think perhaps the fact that is most indicative of the shamefulness of the Liberals' actions is that the MP who speaks most often to this question is the and member for . I do admire his oratory skills and I am sure he will get up and show off those skills again, but I have to ask why the other MPs are so keen to avoid speaking to something they know to be wrong. They are happy to defer speaking responsibility to the most outspoken member of their caucus, and I cannot blame them; I would not want to have to justify the actions of the current government either. That is one of the many reasons I sit on this side of the House as a Conservative.
The government continues to set new records, not on job creation or economic growth and not on things like making life easier for Canadians. The level of attack that the government has taken against the members of Parliament whose privileges were found to be violated in a prima facie case is unprecedented. I encourage all Liberal backbenchers to see the light and make the right choice when it comes time to vote on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to speak to this motion. I will be sharing my time with the member for , a young MP who was elected in the last election in 2015, just as I was. She is an extraordinary woman who was very involved in her community before she became an MP. I do not want to speak for her, but I know that she vigorously and passionately speaks to the issues that are important to her community, just as she did when she was a candidate. Like me, she believes in democracy and the democratic process in the House.
When I was elected, I came here with all kinds of ideas and issues, but above all I wanted to be transparent, to speak on behalf of every person in the riding of Jonquière. On the weekend, there was a big march in Dolbeau-Mistassini in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. It was a gathering of amazing workers who came together for one common purpose. They were united for the forest, and they want the government to stand up for the forestry industry. We know a crisis is looming. Unfortunately, thousands of jobs may be lost if the government does not take action. I am proud to be the voice of the people of Jonquière here in the House.
Getting back to the subject at hand, our job as MPs is to be here in the House to speak up about issues that matter to the people we represent. That applies to MPs for all 338 ridings. Our primary duty is to represent people. I belong to a political party that I am proud of, the NDP, a party whose values I embrace in all aspects of my life and my work. Above all, what matters most are the people.
When we come to Ottawa and we are called upon to vote, we should not be obstructed in any way. I would like to recognize the extraordinary work done by the security forces on the Hill. As a new member, I often got lost in this big, beautiful city, and especially on the Hill, with its countless offices. The security officers were always there for me. Even when I was worried, they were there to reassure me. I would therefore like to recognize the extraordinary work that they do for us.
After the dramatic events that unfolded here, they always have to be on guard. It is not easy to always be on high alert. I want to commend them and thank them on behalf of all my colleagues. They take care of us and allow us to perform our duties, to have full access so we can come to the House and vote. That is why it is important to have this debate.
When I come to the House I expect members to listen to what I have to say. We are all equal. Whether we are members of the government or the opposition, we have the right to speak. Our comments must be taken into account.
Accordingly, the government cannot just say that it has a majority and it was elected by Canadians to represent them. It is true that the government is part of Parliament, but major changes require a consensus. Members of the House have different opinions. We do not always have to fully agree with one another, but we need to at least come to a consensus.
We need to remember the importance of being in the House and the importance of committees. Things happen on many levels. There are many complex procedures and, as a new member, I must admit that I still have some trouble understanding them all. However, we are fortunate to have extraordinary people, including the clerks, to help us keep the House running smoothly. I trust the various bodies. If they have been trained and have always worked, we should stay the course. However, we do not want a repeat of this situation.
I heard a number of stories in the House about things that have happened in the past. I was not here, given that I was elected in 2015. If similar things have already happened in the past, why would we not work constructively and make the necessary changes? We all need to be consulted and be part of the process. Indeed, all members of all political parties must be part of the process. We are the voice of Canadians.
In my opinion, an MP's job is first and foremost to represent the people in his or her riding. My constituents believe that I have a forum where I can speak my mind, that I can vote freely, and that it is easy for me to access Parliament Hill. They also believe that I can be held accountable.
When I go to my riding, I meet with people from a strong and vibrant community. The riding is home to the Knights of Columbus, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Daughters of Isabella, and many other dynamic organizations that host a wide range of activities. I have the opportunity to interact and talk with my constituents.
Over the past two weeks, the people in my riding have been asking me difficult questions. Everything moves quickly in the House. We experience it on a daily basis. However, the process may seem complex to ordinary Canadians. They are wondering what is happening and where their democracy is headed because no one is asking their opinion. Do they feel as though they are well represented? Yes, because they know that every MP in the House is working for them.
I spoke earlier about the great work that is being done by the member for . She works hard and is very passionate about her work. We are all doing our part because we have a common objective, a common goal. In order to reach that goal, we must be able to express ourselves and to vote.
I hope that the members of the House will be able to continue to work together. We must break down barriers, whether we agree or not. The important thing is not only to remember everything that has happened but also to resolve the problem once and for all. We need to give all members the opportunity to express themselves, whether we agree with what they have to say or not. The opinions of members on both sides of the House must be taken into consideration. I believe that this is the very essence of many of the speeches that have been given in the House.
Freedom of expression is extremely important. Members' votes and speeches must be taken into account. Members need to have full and unfettered access to the House of Commons. No member should be prevented from voting, and no member should be prevented from speaking on behalf of his or her constituents.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for for her kind words. I know how hard she fought to come to the House, to take her seat, and to be able to speak as she did today, not only on this question of privilege but on many different issues. I appreciate the work she has done in representing her constituents here and taking that role very seriously.
I am pleased to rise today to debate this question of privilege. I must note that not all members will be able to give a speech on the question of privilege because the government House leader has invoked closure for the second time. That means many members who had planned to speak later today will be unable to do so and in a sense have their privilege breached as well because they will be unable to stand in the House and give wonderful speeches, like I just heard from my colleague from .
We are here because the member for and the member for were attempting to make their way to this place for a vote on budget day. Unfortunately, they were unable to make it because the parliamentary buses were blocked from picking them up at the bus stop due to the 's passing motorcade, which we learned was empty at the time. This prevented my two colleagues from performing their duties as elected representatives.
Voting is a very important part of our job. Having our voting privileges breached is serious and warrants debate in the House. This is not the first time we have debated this question of privilege. The first time, the Liberals closed down the debate on this important issue and then we had the Speaker rule against that closure, saying it was not within the rules of the House. He stated that our Standing Orders clearly stated that questions of privilege took precedence over everything else.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves today with the same heavy-handed tactic. The government House leader today invoked closure once again to shut down this debate. This has never been done in the House before and the arrogance of this move is unprecedented.
I have a great deal of respect for members of the Parliamentary Protective Services and I tip my hat to them. They work to hard to ensure MPs' privileges, rights, and duties are supported. I have a lot of respect for the drivers of the buses that shuttle us around the parliamentary precinct and all the staff on them.
The question of privilege is not about laying fault on these workers. We have the RCMP in the House that answers solely to the government. Earlier when the government House leader said that we needed answers, all she had to do was ask the RCMP, which is under the government's purview, what happened and the Liberals would have the answer. We need an absolute guarantee that this will never happen again.
The issue at hand is that MPs were prevented from performing their duties. Why did this happen? Why were the buses prevented from bringing MPs to this place? Did the 's team know what was happening? Is there a potential that this could happen again? We need answers to these questions. As I mentioned, the Speaker previously found a prima facie breach of privilege for a reason.
Clearly this matter should be studied further at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, but, and this is an important but, we should not shut down debate in the House on privilege in order to do so. The government continues to quash debate on the question of privilege. Instead of allowing Parliament to freely debate the breach of members' ability to move freely about the precinct, once again the Liberals are shutting down the debate.
At the same time this place debates parliamentary privileges, our colleagues at the procedure and House affairs committee are filibustering the government's attempt to unilaterally change the Standing Orders and the rules for how Parliament functions. The problem is that the government is trying to change the rules to benefit the Liberals by taking away power from the opposition and giving more power to the government. This is anti-democratic, especially in a system such as ours where the government already holds a significant amount of power. The rules we have are part of our system of checks and balances to prevent this type of abuse from happening.
Why would the government put an end to this type of debate is a question many of us on this side of the House are asking. I would dare say that some members on the opposite side of the House are also asking this question and do not condone this behaviour in the House of Commons.
For those members on the Liberal side who are new parliamentarians, as I am, I ask them to think about their privilege being breached, and the privilege of the people they were sent to represent, by not having access to the Hill for a vote. Would they not want the ability to fully debate it? I know my colleagues on this side of the House want the ability to debate this and that is why we find a full speaker's list, even though we know the Liberals are shutting down debate once again through closure on this.
What the Liberals are doing in the House is a complete and utter power grab. I want them to think seriously about this behaviour and how Canadians feel about this blatant disrespect of those of us elected to be in the House.
Being able to come here and do our jobs every day is vital to the ability we have to represent our ridings. That is why we call it privilege. Shutting down debate on our ability to do our work sends a clear message to Canadians about the priorities of the Liberals in silencing anyone who does not agree with them. That is the role of the opposition in this place and as the opposition, we have tools available to us to hold the government to account.
In fact, one of the first things we are all provided with is the big green book, our parliamentary bible by O'Brien and Bosc. This book of procedure provides new parliamentarians with all we need to perform to the best of our ability. I have learned so much from these rules in the past 18 months, which allow me to represent my riding with dignity and integrity.
I am not a person who gives up easily. That is probably a large reason why I sit here today and maybe that is why I appreciate these tools and place such a huge importance on them. When I am looking for the best way to fulfill my role as a parliamentarian. I am often led to that big green book, looking to use every tool available to me. I am certain that is exactly what is expected of me by everyone who voted to send me here.
I mentioned earlier that as a new parliamentarian I attended a luncheon in the beautiful Sir John A. Macdonald Building across the way with all new parliamentarians. Our newly minted bounded into the room, went up onto the stage with his shirtsleeves rolled up, grabbed the mic, and promised us all that things would be different, that he would listen, that there would be a dramatic difference from the previous prime minister. He promised that the opposition would be respected and heard.
Although I optimistically thought this difference would be positive as promised, it has become crystal clear that this was a bad omen of things to come. Things are different, but not in a positive way for Canadians. That moment, with the Prime Minister coming in, has taken up permanent residency in my memory. Often I have to rise in the House to express my shock at the incredible about-face he has now taken.
I can honestly say that it has become quite clear to me that the is quite comfortable saying one thing and doing another. He said that he would never use omnibus bills. He is using an omnibus bill. He said that this would be the last election under first past the post, but we all know that will not be the case. He said that he would listen and respect the opposition. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could highlight this behaviour more than what has been displayed in the House lately.
Here we are again today with MPs who were elected to represent Canadians fighting for respect in the House. The House should be a place of the highest respect, not a battlefield for constitutional rights.
I have risen in the House on my own question of privilege, so I understand well the way that breach of privilege affects our work in the House.
There is a pattern of disrespect and disdain in the House for the opposition and that needs to end. It is a poison that will ultimately harm the best interests of Canadians. The House of Commons has become a poisonous workplace that is tainted by cynical buzzwords from the government.
It started with the attempted power grab last year with Motion No. 6, which the government wisely abandoned. Now we have a new , but she has been standing in the House acting as though the Liberals have the authority to change everything.
I have to believe even members opposite ran to do better. Today they are being tested on the commitment, which I heard the newly minted promise us all.
We have a constitutional right to be here to vote and debate with unfettered access. This debate should be allowed to continue until such a time as it collapses, not when the Liberals think it should end but when all parliamentarians have had the privilege of having their say.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join the growing ranks of opposition members imploring our colleagues on the government side of the aisle to vote for the motion to send the question of privilege to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Before getting to the substance of the debate, though, I am going to start by explaining a bit of the background for the benefit of the people of Calgary Rocky Ridge who may be watching today but have not followed this debate on ParlVU or CPAC and may be wondering what this is all about.
Today's debate is about a question of privilege. Just as power is coupled with responsibility, responsibilities must come with the powers necessary to execute them. When members of Parliament are elected, they are charged with the responsibility to represent their constituents in the House of Commons. In order to fulfill this responsibility, we enjoy certain tools and powers by law and a convention called parliamentary privilege. When they hear the word “privilege”, Canadians might think in positive terms about the special things that people are able to enjoy or do, or in negative terms about things that only certain people get to enjoy without having earned them. When members of Parliament speak of their privileges, they are talking about the tools they need to do their jobs.
It is a fundamental principle of western democracy, especially in Westminster-style parliaments, that process matters just as much as results do. Whether it is a due process of law returning a conviction in court, or parliamentary procedure allowing passage of the law under which charges are laid, the process matters. Parliamentary privileges are an integral part of the means by which Parliament governs Canada. They are far more important than the agenda of any given government since they endure while governments come and go.
This topic received considerable discussion before our recent constituency weeks, so I am going to keep my summary brief. On budget day the member for and the member for were not able to get to the House of Commons on time to vote since the parliamentary precinct buses were obstructed at the security entrance. This infringed on their right to be here to represent their constituents, so they raised a question of privilege.
The Speaker looked into the matter and found that there was a prima facie case for a breach of privilege, and then the member for Milton moved the appropriate motion to refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee. A debate about the exact cause of the blocked buses then ensued. My friend from Beauce recounted that the Parliamentary Protective Service told him that the 's empty motorcade exiting Parliament Hill caused the delay. If there is any doubt regarding these remarks, it should not be difficult to track down the constable to whom the member inquired and ask him or her directly, but the House of Commons is not a court. It does not have the power to call witnesses and examine testimony; PROC does. This matter should go to PROC, where witnesses can be summoned and the constable who told the member for Beauce about the Prime Minister's motorcade can appear and face questions for the record and where the Speaker's report on his investigation can be parsed line by line until Parliament has a precise and accurate picture of the day's events.
Given that a case like this arose a few years ago, it should have been obvious that the matter should have immediately gone to PROC for a full review. Although I was not a member of Parliament when Yvon Godin raised his question of privilege about being blocked from attending the House due to security measures for a visiting dignitary, I am going to join my colleagues in mentioning that the matter was immediately referred to PROC where it immediately took precedence over the other business on the agenda at that committee at that time. That was the correct thing to do then and it is the correct thing to do now.
It follows the folkways and customs of this House, as my friend from called them. It upholds the centuries-old tradition of the Standing Orders, yet strangely enough, the Liberals have argued against the motion to refer the question of privilege to PROC and the amendment to have the question take priority over other matters currently before the committee. They even accused the loyal opposition of making this into a partisan issue by discussing the member for 's account of the events.
I for one do not allege malice or intent to breach the parliamentary privilege on the part of the . I do not accuse him of intentionally obstructing access through tactical use of his motorcade. Indeed, from my reading of the Speaker's report, this incident looks like a case of bureaucratic processes that resulted in an innocent and unwitting combination of events resulting in the breach of privilege, yet the in his replies displayed a degree of defensiveness that would be unwarranted in this situation were it merely an egregious example of miscommunication and procedural breakdown without the partisan element.
I agree with my colleague from . I think this parliamentary secretary doth protest too much, yet his protests and defensiveness is all the more reason to get the matter to PROC for a full investigation, not to impugn or condemn the for contemptuous partisan tactics, but to determine the actual cause of the incident and thereby potentially clear him of any suspicion by association with these events.
The government House leader and her parliamentary secretary's ability and willingness to stand up day after day and defend the government's policies and actions in the face of justified criticism are appalling. Indeed, the is steadfast and stalwart at stonewalling against calls for transparency, deftly dodging and deflecting attempts to hold the government accountable. Such a talent is strangely impressive, but this is not the time for him to exercise his uniquely dubious talent and his imperviousness to shame.
Breaches of parliamentary privilege which prevent members from representing our constituents go beyond any temporary part of the struggle of the day. They go to the very root of constitutional representative government, Westminster-style parliamentary procedure, and what in the 19th century was understood as responsible government.
The incident before us today need not and should not be a partisan or policy matter for debate in the chamber. It is an important procedural matter, over which PROC has authority, and blocking its immediate referral to PROC and preventing it from taking priority over other matters at that committee turns this from a serious procedural matter into another partisan point.
The expressed concern about PROC's ability to address the matter, given the tenor of debate in the House so far. We can have a discussion on how well standing committees function in this Parliament, but that topic is a distraction from the point at hand. Whether or not PROC functions as effectively as we would all like is not relevant, because it remains the only proper venue for questions of privilege.
Two opposition members missing a vote on the budget when the government has a majority might not seem like an important issue to many Canadians, but failing to address this matter properly now, when the government was not set to stand or fall on two votes, opens the door to unscrupulous tactics by future governments on critical confidence votes. I am not given to hyperbole or slippery slope arguments, but I must mention that disregarding this question of privilege in refusing to refer the matter to PROC has set a very dangerous precedent.
As other members have mentioned, the legal right of members of Parliament to attend the House of Commons goes back many centuries to a time when the king tried to arrest members to stop them from attending the House or to stop them from voting. The mace, which is present in the House when we sit and is part of our daily ceremony, is a symbol of these hard-won privileges. It was a defensive weapon to symbolize and remember how parliamentarians once needed to resist the power of the crown, its government and its agents by force. The mace is a symbol of how the common people of Canada are represented by members of Parliament, and that the government has no power over them other than through the consent of this House.
I do not believe that parties which exist today would deliberately try to physically prevent members from fulfilling their parliamentary duties, but it is foolish to trust in the goodwill of future generations. The origin and evolution of these privileges through the centuries underscore the importance of protecting them.
If the Liberals get away with not investigating a breach of privilege at this time, a future government might try to subtly, or not so subtly, block opposition MPs from attending the House to vote, and then brush aside criticism by correctly claiming that they were only following the precedent that is attempted to be set by not referring this privilege to committee.
Speaking of dangerous precedents, on the first day of debate on this question of privilege, the Liberals did something hitherto unseen in Westminster parliaments. They cut off the debate on privilege by moving to proceed to the orders of the day. As my friend from observed, “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.”
Such disrespect for Canada's parliamentary traditions and procedures might not strike the viewers at home as especially momentous. It may look to them like a government just trying to get on with governing, like a government trying to skirt an obstacle in the name of efficiency, but such inefficiency is a necessary check and balance in a democratic form of government.
Democracies are not built for speed but for reasoned deliberation and representation. By shutting down debate on a matter of privilege that goes to the very root of representative government, the Liberals have done serious and potentially irreparable harm to Parliament.
The Liberal government did not stop at one precedent that undermined the foundation of Canada's democratic institutions. As my colleague, the member for , identified on April 7, the Liberals tried to circumvent customary practice at PROC itself. Instead of voting on a motion from the House of Commons to refer this motion of privilege to PROC, and thus to order PROC to investigate it immediately, the Liberals tried to have PROC initiate its own study for the matter without an official charge from the House.
This point may seem to be fairly obscure for Canadians not immersed in parliamentary procedure, but it is worth explaining. Standing committees may initiate their own studies with a motion, but they may also discontinue or interrupt those studies with another motion. This means that an important question of privilege could be set aside whenever the Liberal majority on PROC felt like it instead of being addressed immediately and fully, as a charge from the House of Commons would require. The Liberals tried to escape a question of privilege by taking it from mandatory to discretionary, thus allowing it to be discarded at their convenience.
I turn my attention to the topic of PROC as the proper venue for investigations of matters of privilege. I appreciate how delicately my friend from made the case to Parliament to have access to all the evidence on which the Speaker based his initial finding of a prima facie breach of privilege, so I will echo his remarks. In discussing the Speaker's finding of fact, he said:
|| Those findings were in reports that were apparently made available to the Speaker. I have not seen those. I do not believe they have been tendered to this House, yet they were the evidentiary basis on which the Speaker's finding was made.
I agree with him that PROC is better suited, and indeed is authorized, for the role of fact-finder, rather than the Speaker, despite the entirely reasonable need for the Speaker to gather facts on which to base a prima facie finding of breach of privilege. Members of Parliament, and by extension, the constituents we represent, have a right to know how our parliamentary privileges are upheld. That right includes access to facts and testimony surrounding incidents of breach, and that access is best granted through PROC.
With respect to my colleague from 's amendment to the motion before us today, I understand that PROC is currently seized with the question regarding proposed changes to the Standing Orders. However, enforcing existing Standing Orders takes precedence over discussing amendments or innovations. It is like arguing over the new rigging for a sinking ship. Repairing and ensuring immediate security and safety has to take priority over redesign.
The remarks of the member for get to the heart of the government's resistence to this motion. On April 6, she said:
|| We will not allow the Conservatives to play politics with the rights and privileges of members of Parliament. This is just too important. We will also not let them try to block a study on how we modernize the rules of the House of Commons.
What a ridiculous mischaracterization of what is happening. It is as if she is suggesting, with a straight face and without a hint of irony, that the Conservatives, as well as the other opposition parties, are playing politics by asking PROC to investigate how two members of Parliament were prevented from voting on a budget bill, a confidence motion, when you, Mr. Speaker, had issued a ruling finding a prima facie case of breach of privilege, and that by denying such a referral, against all precedence, somehow the government is not playing politics. She is basically saying that it is not that important if duly elected members of Parliament cannot get to the House to vote on the budget, but ramming through changes to the Standing Orders without all-party consent, contrary to all precedents and convention, so that the government can dodge democratic accountability is important.
Canadians elected us with an expectation that we would follow the rules, not change them to suit whoever is in power at a particular moment. Canadians expect us to respect our democratic institutions. Governments in civilized countries do not get to make up the rules whenever they want to. Well-structured governments have clear rules, with clear procedures to change them. They also have built in checks and balances. Canada's governing institutions have become more and more centralized over the past 50 years, especially since the first Prime Minister Trudeau. More power has passed from the House of Commons to cabinet as the roles of individual MPs have shrunk.
We are now at the point where the only real power opposition MPs and governing party backbenchers have in the House is moral suasion through debate, an appeal to the government's conscience through the power to question, and the power of delay. Other than these very limited powers, the government can pass any law it wants between elections, and the current government wants to reduce these final, very limited powers MPs have to represent their voters.
April 6 was an especially bad day in terms of patronizing Liberal nonsense that treats Canadians and their elected representatives as children. The member for went so far as to lecture this House and two parliamentary veterans on the need to plan their days to get to the chamber more quickly. He lectured them on his own experiences with the parliamentary bus, including his attempt to disembark away from a designated stop. When my colleagues spoke out to express their concern for his safety in attempting to do so, he referred back to his days as an elementary school teacher managing first-and second-grade children, thus implying that fellow members of Parliament were no better self-managers than six-year-old children.
Such comments are outrageously insulting to our hon. colleagues. However, the member for 's school metaphor may be useful. Does a student deserve a lecture on punctuality if he or she dutifully waits for the bus but arrives late, because the bus was blocked by the police at the only intersection the bus could cross to get the student to school? Of course not.
It is bad enough that the member insulted fellow MPs, but far more disturbing was the member for 's undermining of your authority, Mr. Speaker. He might have denied any intent in doing so, but his later statements contradict him. By brushing off the need to debate, by lecturing other members on punctuality, and by diverting attention from a breach of privilege to the need for a positive work environment, he effectively dismissed your finding of a prima facie case of breach of privilege, a finding that is always accompanied by a motion referring the matter to PROC. This is another example of Liberal arrogance, of telling Canadians that results matter more than process. Unlike the member for , he was subtle. He did not boldly declare that the Liberals will not allow a question of privilege to interfere with their plans to reform Parliament in their own image and will trample all due process in their way. Instead, he insinuated that this topic is not worthy of Parliament's attention and that debating it was a waste of time. While I agree with him that it is a waste of time to debate a motion that custom dictates should pass, I can safely speak for my Conservative colleagues, and perhaps even for the NDP, in saying that we would end debate if the Liberals agreed to do what is always done with questions of privilege and send this matter to PROC. We are not the problem here.
To conclude, I urge my colleagues on the government benches to remember that they will be on this side of the aisle sooner or later. In fact, there are a number of members on the government side of this House who have spent time over here. There are even a few veterans who have been on both sides of this chamber, before the 42nd Parliament, who know full well just how outrageous the current situation is and that it is untenable. I will not embarrass them by calling them out. I do not want any of them to suffer or have conflict with their own colleagues and House officers for speaking out and speaking up for what is right.
I implore my Liberal colleagues who are new to this place, as I am, to seek the wisdom of their own colleagues who have experience here. I know that many of the experienced members on the backbenches know that what their House leader and her parliamentary secretary are doing is wrong. Parliamentarians of all stripes know that one should never do in government what one denounces in opposition. One should never set precedents for temporary partisan gain if it undermines parliamentary institutions and erodes the very foundations of our form of government. I encourage them to vote for this motion and its amendment and send this matter to PROC.