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View Michael Ignatieff Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, before we start this debate, I have a few words for you. You are at the end of your term as Speaker of the House, and I would like to express how much fondness and respect we all have for you. Your rulings have left their mark on our country's history.
Mr. Speaker, you have taught us all, sometimes with a modest rebuke, sometimes with the sharp sting of focused argument, to understand, to respect and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that your citizens will always hold you in highest honour.
This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, the democracy that you, Mr. Speaker, have served so well. I have to inform the House that the official opposition has lost confidence in the government.
The government no longer has the confidence of the official opposition.
Our motion asks the House to agree with the finding in the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented on March 21. This was a historic finding. It was the first time that a parliamentary committee has found the government in contempt.
Today, with this motion, we ask the House to do the same, to find the government in contempt and to withdraw the confidence of the House.
With this motion, we are calling on members of Parliament to condemn the government for its contempt of Parliament and to withdraw the confidence of the House. This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, but it is also an opportunity for us to confirm our commitment to parliamentary democracy and its fundamental principles.
What principles are we talking about? That the government has the obligation to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.
The principle at stake in this debate goes to the heart of parliamentary democracy: the obligation of a government to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.
We are the people's representatives. When the government spends money, the people have a right to know what it is to be spent on. Parliament does not issue blank cheques. For four months, the opposition has asked the government to tell the Canadian people the true cost of its budget plans. For four months, we demanded to know how much Canadian taxpayers were being asked to pay for fighter jets, prisons and corporate tax breaks. For four months. this House and the Canadian people were stonewalled by the government and they are being stonewalled still.
For four months, we have been trying to hold this government accountable. For four months, we demanded to know the real cost of the fighter jets, prisons and tax breaks for major corporations. For four months, we did not get a single answer, aside from the contempt and arrogance of this government. And today, still, we have no answers.
We were shocked, but we were not surprised. After all, this is the same government that shut down Parliament twice, the same government that was forced, by one of your rulings, to hand over documents to do with Afghan prisoners, and we are still waiting for those documents.
In the case of the Afghan documents, the government's excuse for withholding the truth was national security. In the case of the budget documents, it invented something about cabinet confidence, but actually it did not even bother with an excuse at all.
But you, Mr. Speaker, would have none of it. You, Mr. Speaker, held that the rules of our democracy require the government to answer the questions that Parliament wants answered. The matter was sent back to a committee for action and it came back with a finding of contempt. That is why we are where we are today. The House must decide whether the government has broken a basic rule of our democracy and therefore, whether it can remain in office.
For our part on this side of the House, there is no doubt. You, Mr. Speaker, have spoken, the committee has spoken, and now the House must speak with a clear voice. It must say that a government that breaks the rules and conceals facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office.
With one clear voice, the House must declare that a government that does not respect democracy cannot remain in power. We have had enough. If this vote results in an election, the Canadian people will have the opportunity to replace an arrogant government with one that respects democracy.
To those who say an election is unnecessary, we reply that we did not seek an election, but if we need one to replace a government that does not respect democracy with one that does, I cannot think of a more necessary election.
It is not just democracy that the House will be called upon to affirm this afternoon. The House should also affirm Canadians' hunger, nay their longing, for change. It is time to change Canada's direction. It is time to get us on the right path. After five years of Conservative government, it is time to say enough is enough. Enough of the politics of fear. Enough of the politics of division. Enough of the politics of personal destruction.
Enough is enough. We need to look at the government's priorities. It wants to spend 1,000 times more on fighter jets than on helping students in CEGEP and university. We reject the government's priorities. It is offering less to seniors for an entire year than what it spent on one day of the G20. We say no to this kind of waste. The government wants to spend 1,000 times more on prisons than on preventing youth crime. Again, we say no. This government's priorities are not in line with the priorities of Canadian families. We have had it. Enough is enough.
The priorities of the government laid bare in that thin gruel that we saw earlier this week reveal a government out of touch and out of control. There is no credible plan to tackle the deficit because there are no numbers any reasonable person can believe in. There is no vision of how to sustain our health care system. There is not a word about affordable housing, not a word about child care, and nothing for the pressing needs of Canadian families in poverty.
Instead, we get jets, jails and giveaways to oil companies, insurance companies, and banks that are doing just fine, thank you very much.
So we need a change. We need to focus scarce resources where they really matter: early learning and child care; college and university education for all, especially for aboriginal and immigrant Canadians; energy efficiency and green jobs; family care for our loved ones in the home, and security and dignity in retirement. We need all of this plus a clear plan to clean up our country's finances and get us back to balance without adding to the tax burden on Canadian families.
These are the priorities of our people. These are the needs that we must serve. These are the priorities at home. However, let us not forget the priorities abroad. We have so much ground to catch up. We have a government that has lost our place in the world and lost our place at the Security Council of the United Nations.
We need a government that restores our honour, our credit, and our prestige on the international stage, a government that understands the deep and committed internationalism that dwells in the hearts of all Canadian citizens.
We need a government for the people, a government that is accountable to the people and that serves the people and democracy.
I want to conclude by saying a few words about democracy. Some members of this government have been charged with electoral fraud. A member of the Prime Minister's inner circle is accused of influence peddling. Enough is enough. People are fed up.
I return to where I started, to democracy, to the abuse of power. We have a government whose most senior members stand accused of electoral fraud. We have a Prime Minister who appointed, as his top adviser, someone who served prison time for stealing money from his clients, someone who now faces accusations of influence peddling, and is under an RCMP investigation.
Canadians look at that picture and they say, “We have had enough”. This House has had enough, enough of the abuse of power and enough of the bad economic choices.
We have a government with unique distinctions. We have a government with the largest deficit in Canadian history. It is the highest spending government in Canadian history. It is the most wasteful government in Canadian history. Finally, it is the first government in Canadian history to face a vote of contempt in this House.
This is a government and a Prime Minister that is out of touch and is out of control. It is time for a change.
Mr. Speaker, I urge all of the members to support our motion.
View Joyce Murray Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Joyce Murray Profile
2011-03-25 10:30 [p.9249]
Mr. Speaker, the strength of the country we love is our people, but it is also the principles and practices of our democracy. People have worked for, fought for and have died for our democracy and our country. Now the government has broken the basic rules of democracy, and that is being expressed in the vote of contempt of Parliament that is happening today in the House of Commons.
Would the Leader of the Official Opposition tell us how the government's abuses of power and contempt of Parliament affect the very character of Canada? How do they affect the daily lives of people in their homes and communities in Canada?
View Claude Bachand Profile
View Claude Bachand Profile
2011-03-25 10:57 [p.9253]
Mr. Speaker, I must admit it has been a long time since I have heard such an arrogant speech.
I have a lesson in democracy for the Conservative government's whip. To attack the legitimacy of the Bloc is to attack the legitimacy of all the hon. members who sit in this House. If an hon. member is sitting in the House of Commons, it is because the people of his riding elected him. It should not matter what party he belongs to.
When I say the whip is arrogant, I mean that the Conservative Party seems to think it is the only party that matters in Parliament. What the minister did is totally unacceptable.
I want to know whether he thinks that the voters in Saint-Jean and those in the other 50 Bloc-held ridings are all morons who understand absolutely nothing. I have news for him: the Bloc is going to come back with a majority in Quebec for the seventh time, and the government whip is going to eat his words.
View Jim Karygiannis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am seeking unanimous consent to move a motion that the House unanimously condemn what is happening in Bahrain by the government against its people and calls on all parties to move swiftly to resolve the difficulties and for democracy to return in Bahrain.
View Denise Savoie Profile
View Denise Savoie Profile
2011-03-25 13:16 [p.9275]
Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
View Gilles Duceppe Profile
View Gilles Duceppe Profile
2011-03-25 13:18 [p.9279]
Madam Speaker, the motion we are debating today is on the confidence that every government must earn and keep.
We are dealing with a government that has woven a web of deception, attacked democracy and demonstrated an utter lack of integrity.
We are dealing with a government and a Prime Minister who have written off Quebec.
It is no longer possible to have any confidence in this Conservative government.
The fact that it was found guilty of contempt of Parliament, a first in the history of Canada, is serious enough in and of itself.
It was not just a simple mistake and the Prime Minister cannot suggest that there were extenuating circumstances.
The Conservative leader's decision to hide the truth was premeditated.
What is more, the Conservative leader is a notorious repeat offender. He and his party have quite the rap sheet.
The Conservative leader and his entourage have turned deception and trickery into a system of governance.
They have simply been making up the facts and fudging the truth, as we saw in the case of the Afghan detainees.
It goes on like that, deception after deception.
For example, when it came to the procurement of fighter jets, the government hid the numbers.
The Conservatives' populist law and order bills are going to cost several billion dollars.
The Conservative leader and his cohorts have decided to adopt the American approach, one that has unfortunately failed and that costs a lot of money.
They know it but, for them, it is not the actual results of public policies that matter, it is the ideological results.
The Conservative leader knows very well that, if the public learns that his policies are costing billions of dollars, he will fail in his attempt to impose his ideological agenda.
For years, the Conservative leader and his cohorts have claimed to want to fix the justice system, but each time they were given the opportunity to abolish automatic parole after one-sixth of the sentence has been served, they refused, finding a new pretext for doing so each time.
The Conservatives did not hesitate to spread falsehoods about the Bloc Québécois and it took widespread indignation about the release of Vincent Lacroix for them to stop their hyper-partisan game.
Another example: the Conservatives want the public to believe that they are responsible for the economic recovery.
It is the exact opposite.
Had there not been a proposed coalition against his government at the end of 2008, the Conservative leader would have sunk the Canadian and Quebec economies.
The only reason why there is a stimulus plan, an unsatisfactory one at that, is because the opposition parties made him come up with one.
Today the Prime Minister said that even the idea of a coalition is illegitimate, but he is misleading the public.
In 2004, he himself planned to form a similar coalition, and he knows it. I will read the letter he wrote, which I signed, as did the leader of the NDP.
You could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program [the government was Liberal at the time.]We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation.We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.
The thought was that the Conservative leader would become prime minister after coming to an agreement with the leaders of the Bloc and the NDP about the content of the throne speech and the budget. And look what happened.
Another lie: for months the Prime Minister has been saying that he does not want an election.
But his actions over the past weeks have demonstrated the exact opposite.
He did not hesitate to orchestrate a $26 million pre-election ad campaign with taxpayers' money.
He deliberately wrote off Quebec in his budget in order to ensure that we could not vote for it.
On Wednesday the Conservative leader repeated once again that he did not want an election, yet he completely dismissed any possibility of amending his budget.
All of the Conservative leader's actions point to the same thing: he wanted an election.
He told the public exactly the opposite of what he was really thinking.
After so much deceit, how can anyone have confidence in the Conservative leader and his entourage? Especially since the case against the Conservatives is so strong.
Not only has there been contempt of Parliament, but also patronage, influence peddling, electoral fraud and RCMP investigations. The Conservative government handed out many partisan appointments, despite its promises to end that practice.
A former advisor to the Conservative leader and the Minister of Natural Resources is under criminal investigation. The party is facing charges for violating the Canada Elections Act, and I am not talking about one isolated incident. According to Elections Canada, we are talking about a premeditated system of electoral fraud. We are talking about violations committed by the highest authorities in the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister's inner circle, and several of his ministers. For a party that claims to be the champion of law and order, it is rather pathetic.
The case against the government is very strong and there are no extenuating circumstances. The Conservatives are repeat offenders and definitely do not deserve the confidence of the people of Quebec. We therefore plan to vote in favour of the non-confidence motion against this government, this party and its leader. We will do so on this very question of integrity, but we will also do so because the Conservative leader has not honoured his commitments to Quebec.
The Conservatives wrote off Quebec in order to trigger an election. The Conservative leader made sure that the economic and financial needs of Quebec would be completely ignored. The refusal to give Quebec compensation for harmonizing taxes is a perfect example. Everyone agrees that this $2.2 billion compensation is a matter of basic fairness. All the parties in the National Assembly agree. The agreement is ready to be signed. Quebec has been waiting for 19 years.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister's political lieutenant from Quebec had the nerve to say that an election would delay negotiations with Quebec. That is taking people for fools, especially knowing that the Conservatives have done everything they could to trigger an election. The truth is that the Conservatives knew they would lose votes in Canada if they were fair to Quebec. The truth is that the Conservative MPs are prepared to sacrifice the interests of Quebec in order to obey their master. When the time comes to speak for Quebec, to represent the consensus in Quebec, they keep quiet, as usual. They deliberately chose to ignore Quebec and turn their backs on their province. Quebeckers will not forget that.
There is a total of $5 billion worth of disputes between Ottawa and Quebec that the Conservatives have completely ignored. We are talking about $630 for every Quebecker, including babies. For a family of four, this represents $2,500. Two thousand, five hundred dollars is the amount of money Quebec families have to do without for health services and education. For every Quebecker, there is a tangible loss of $630 per person. We will remind Quebeckers of that. Our requests meet with consensus and are simply fair. Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have all had their turn. Now it is Quebec's turn and the Conservative leader has chosen, with the complicity of his MPs from Quebec, to cast us aside. Quebeckers will not forget that.
When it comes to social programs, the Conservatives do not care about the middle class. The budget ignores the amply demonstrated need for real reform of employment insurance. The Conservatives do not care about the sad fate of the unemployed. The Conservatives distort the facts, as usual, by saying that with the eligibility threshold of 360 hours that the Bloc Québécois is calling for, people will receive 50 weeks of benefits. That is not true and they know it. With that threshold, in Gaspé, it is 32 weeks, in Lac-Saint-Jean it is 20 weeks and in Gatineau it is 16 weeks—not 50.
What is worse is that the Conservatives are telling us that they will be helping themselves to the EI fund to pay down their deficit, as the Liberals did before them. I will be clear and frank: that is theft.
In Quebec, the forestry industry has been in a crisis for over seven years and many mills have shut down, throwing thousands of workers onto the street. Older workers who lost their jobs need an assistance program. The Conservatives ignored that too.
Our poorest seniors were offered a small increase to their guaranteed income supplement, but no one is fooled; the Conservatives were just hoping to score some political points, since they did not even have the heart to bring in automatic enrolment.
This means that thousands of seniors will be left in the lurch, without any resources. We can see the full extent of the deceit and cynicism of these ideologues who claim to want to help our poorest seniors. There is only one word to describe the Conservatives' offensive attitude, and that is “hypocrisy”.
This budget continued to ignore the economy in the regions. After the automotive industry in Ontario got a gift of $10 billion, it should have been the turn of Quebec's forestry industry. But no, all it got were some crumbs. It was the same for Quebec's manufacturing industry, which cannot count on an extensive federal policy to help it overcome the Canadian dollar's oil-fuelled rise in value. All the Conservatives have to offer the regions of Quebec are tangible losses.
In short, any way we look at this budget, it is clear that the Conservatives have ignored Quebec. We will remind Quebeckers of that.
And the files are piling up. Yesterday, for example, the government announced that it had reached an agreement with Quebec on the Old Harry site, off the Magdalen Islands. But the Conservative government refuses to accept its responsibilities and ratify the border agreement between Quebec and the Atlantic provinces that Newfoundland disputes. The Conservatives refuse to impose a moratorium on the exploration and development on the Newfoundland side until Quebec has completed its environmental assessment.
There is another question. When the agreement is signed, does the Conservative government intend to offer Quebec the same terms as Newfoundland, which received $4.5 billion under the side deals? This very Wednesday, the Minister of National Defence clearly stated that Canada' interests take precedence over those of Quebec.
The government is about to offer a loan guarantee for the installation of an underwater electricity cable that will save Newfoundland and Labrador hundreds of millions of dollars but will be detrimental to Hydro-Québec and, therefore, to all of Quebec. What are the Conservative members from Quebec doing? They take it lying down and saying nothing.
It is very clear that Quebec cannot trust the Conservatives with its future. It is even more apparent that the Conservative leader wants to obtain a majority and the risk that he will do so is very real. That is a real danger to Quebec. If it happens, the Conservatives would be free to impose their ideological policies, which are harmful and contrary to the interests and values of Quebeckers. The Conservative ideology is foreign and warlike; Quebeckers find it disgraceful.
We are talking about billions of dollars in additional and often useless military expenditures. The Conservative ideology means protecting the interests of big oil companies. It means more prisons and more guns in circulation. The Conservative ideology means continued assaults against the environment, the distribution of wealth, gender equality, science, truth and democracy. A Conservative majority means the completely negation of everything we are and new assaults against Quebec culture. It means that our economic interests will be completely ignored and our regions will be even more neglected.
We cannot ignore this threat. Quebeckers therefore have a very clear choice to make. On one hand, there are the Conservatives, who have a cynical, sneaky, deceitful and cheating attitude. Their goal is to obtain a majority so that they can impose their backward and dangerous ideology without anyone being able to stop them. And, when it comes time to speak on behalf of Quebec, the Conservatives do not say anything. They bow before their leader and turn their backs on Quebeckers. We saw this in Quebec City on the issue of the arena, as well as on many other issues.
On the other hand, there is the Bloc Québécois, the only party in Quebec that is able to stand in the way of the Prime Minister's goals. Today, we are voting to show that the elected representatives of the Quebec people do not have confidence in this government, which has turned its back on Quebec. We cannot trust these Conservatives, who have tried to mislead the public, who have engaged in undemocratic behaviour and who have disregarded any notion of integrity.
The Conservative leader and his cohorts are known to be repeat offenders. They must be condemned without hesitation. They do not deserve our confidence. Today, it is the people's representatives who are voting. In a few weeks, it will be the voters' turn to do so. There is only one way to protect our values and democracy and that is through democracy itself.
View Christiane Gagnon Profile
View Christiane Gagnon Profile
2011-03-24 13:57 [p.9197]
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. It says a lot about what the Conservative members think of democracy. Members have to be elected to Parliament, they have to be in government. The Conservatives have not understood that the opposition is there to monitor the government’s actions. They would prefer it if there were 308 Conservative members in the House who got to make decisions without ever being criticized.
They have not understood what a true democracy is. It always makes me smile when I see the Prime Minister go to another country and say that he is going to help it. I will not single out any particular country. The government wants to bring democracy to other countries, but perhaps it should start by taking a look at Canada. That is what we are asking for. The situation is quite shocking. Things often get heated because the Conservatives have no respect for the work done by opposition members, whether they be Liberals, New Democrats or members of the Bloc Québécois.
Rather than saying that a particular member is whining, the Conservatives should consider that the member is analyzing an issue, consulting different segments of the population that they do not consult, and relaying those perspectives back to them. A democracy means allowing people to speak. Yesterday, we were told that we were not capable of reading a budget. That attitude is truly contemptuous of how seriously all members here take their work.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2011-03-23 14:11 [p.9128]
Mr. Speaker, given the societal turmoil happening in the world today, I bring to the attention of the House a significant world event a quarter of a century past.
Twenty-five years ago, the Filipino people changed, without bloodshed, a dictatorship that they had detested to a democracy that they have since enjoyed.
People power has since been shown to work in other countries when a courageous population is determined to effect change.
Filipinos and Canadians of Filipino origin can truly take just pride when they celebrate the 25th anniversary of their people power revolution this year.
It is a Filipino legacy and an inspiration to a world committed to the democratic ideals of freedom, human rights, peace and justice, as my friend Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, a former MP, so beautifully reminded me last week. He continued to say that it helps remind everyone that freedom is so precious a human aspiration that the people of a nation, when long deprived of it, willingly face the danger of death to regain it.
I ask all members to join me in saluting the Filipino community in Canada in its celebration of people power.
View Raymonde Folco Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Raymonde Folco Profile
2011-03-21 13:59 [p.9006]
Mr. Speaker, on March 20, the whole world celebrated La Francophonie. Today we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has ignored these two events.
Canada has cut funding for Canadian organizations that work to promote democracy, and has abandoned the project that was to create an agency to promote democracy abroad.
In the current international context, African countries, including some that belong to La Francophonie, are most in need of help with creating and strengthening their democracies.
The government's lack of action suggests a withdrawal from the international Francophonie and a policy that discriminates against Africa, made worse by the removal of many African countries from the international priority list for assistance.
I am asking the Conservatives to stop this discriminatory policy and to free up the money required to respect the commitments that have already been made to democratic development.
View Christiane Gagnon Profile
View Christiane Gagnon Profile
2011-03-10 10:48 [p.8875]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this opposition day as my party's democratic reform critic. This motion was made necessary because of the actions the Conservatives have taken since they came into power in 2006.
My colleague from Joliette spoke a lot about the saga involving the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and also the actions of the Conservative Party, in particular the government, with respect to financing for that party, which established a scheme to obtain more money to pay for their advertising. I will come back to this later.
I would like to go over a few examples, because these are not just recent examples. Since they were elected in 2006, the Conservatives have interfered with democracy by manipulating principles as they see fit or even completely disregarding them. This is very worrisome because it creates precedents and we can dare not imagine would what happen with a majority government.
I would like to quote columnist Manon Cornellier, who wrote in the newspaper Le Devoir on September 29, 2010:
[Citizens] are kept in the dark and deprived of fundamental information, which means they are no longer as capable of exercising their primary democratic right of judging the government.
Democracy is always exercised better and more intelligently in a context of transparency, rigour and credible information.
I quoted this columnist because I want to remind the government why it is not currently a majority government and why there is an opposition. The opposition is here to shed light on government decisions and to hold the government accountable to the public.
For example, when I go back to the Quebec City area, many people who voted for me or my colleague in Louis-Hébert say they elected us because they do not want this to be a majority government and do not want its ideology imposed on Quebeckers. That is why the Bloc Québécois is so strong all over Quebec. The government is especially abusive in how it treats democracy here in the House. Today we are debating the reasons why the Conservatives are criticized so much, so often provoke stormy debates, and make a mockery of the opposition’s right to express its views and hold the government to account.
The Conservatives do not want to be accountable to anyone and do not hesitate to resorts to all kinds of tricks, even going so far as to break the most elementary rules by which they should abide in respectable country that is supposed to be democratic. They do not care a fig about democracy and shrink from nothing when it comes to promoting their partisan interests and imposing their reactionary ideology. There are many recent examples, and our motion mentions some of them.
I would like to refresh the memories of certain colleagues, and also of the people watching us, by reviewing a few more examples that are not mentioned in the motion put forward by my colleague from Joliette. For several years now, the Shannon citizens’ coalition and its lawyers have tried repeatedly to obtain documents from the Department of National Defence on the contamination of ground water. However, the government has been delaying the release of documents sought under the Access to Information Act, has been obstructive,and has simply failed to disclose the documents in question.
Last November 25, we managed—because opposition members are in the majority here in the House—to adopt an order to produce the documents. The documents deal with reports analyzing the water supply system at the Valcartier base since 1970. I asked the minister a question because he had promised to table the documents. He said right here in the House, before all the members, that he would table them. So what did he do? Nothing. The government and the Department of National Defence are still hiding behind the class action suit that is now before the courts. But when I asked him,he said it was already headed for the courts. Did he show good faith? No, he misled the House and all citizens about his real intentions.
A similar situation arose regarding the disclosure of documents about the transfer of prisoners in Afghanistan. The government was refusing to release the documents and that is why it prorogued Parliament in December 2009. You had given a ruling, Mr. Speaker, in April 2010 that ordered the government to release the documents, which were not a threat to national security. So what happened?
One year later, a committee has examined the issue but no documents have been made public. If that is not obstruction, I wonder what it is. The government is delaying telling the truth to citizens. It is also delaying bills. It deemed it appropriate to have a majority of senators in the other place to block bills passed by the House. The Senate absolutely refuses to look at all the bills and come to a decision.
The Conservatives seem to have a hard time understanding and applying the basic principles of democracy. One of these principles calls for a separation of powers between the public and political administrations. Yet, how many times have the Conservatives interfered in the public administration since they took office? How many times have they muzzled senior public servants who did not share their views, or did not want to implement a partisan decision? KAIROS, to which the hon. member for Trois-Rivières referred earlier, is one example. The list of victims is a long one, but I will mention a few.
Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, was fired during the scandal related to the downtime of the Chalk River reactors. Munir Sheikh, the Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada, resigned because he did not support abolishing the mandatory long form census. Rémy Beauregard, whose management of Rights and Democracy was criticized, died of a heart attack after a stormy and tumultuous meeting. Marty Cheliak, former head of the Canadian firearms program, was let go because he was about to table a report supporting gun control. There is also Patrick Stogran, the former Veterans Ombudsman, whose mandate was not renewed because he dared criticize the government's treatment of veterans.
All these individuals were fired or their mandate was not renewed because the government was not pleased. The Senate has blocked legislation such as Bill C-311, which was supported by the Bloc Québécois and a majority of elected members in this House. This bill, dealing with our responsibility regarding global climate change, was contrary to the government's vision on the environment. They rejected it without even looking at it. The Conservatives set a precedent that had not been seen since 1930. They show a blatant disrespect for democratic institutions.
I could list numerous other bills that have been blocked, including the one requiring that Supreme Court judges be bilingual. The Conservatives bought time by constantly stalling the study of the bill until they had a majority in the Senate. The Prime Minister promised to change the rules of the game so that government would be more transparent. But what he has done is worse than what the Liberals did and, in some ways, he has gone even further than they did. The Conservatives' actions of late, coupled with the fact that Conservative senators are getting away with spending money from the Senate budget to promote their partisan ideology, lead us to believe that there is some confusion between the resources of a political party and the resources of the government or the House of Commons.
Taxpayers' money was used for partisan purposes and electioneering. They are always telling the House that public money needs to be respected and that the government is careful about how it spends public money. But what did they do? They used a scam to pay for ads and took $200,000 from taxpayers. They exceeded their election campaign spending limit.
Today we are going to “highlight” everything they have done since they came to power. We will demonstrate that this government is not transparent and that the Prime Minister has not kept his election promises. People wanted to see the Conservatives in power so that there would be more transparency. But that is not what we are seeing these days.
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
2011-03-10 11:33 [p.8882]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois for moving this opposition motion today. It is a very good and relevant way to ring alarm bells across the country regarding our concerns about the state of democracy in Canada.
I will repeat the motion:
That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it did by justifying the Conservative Party's circumvention of the rules on election spending in the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used public funds to solicit donations to the Conservative Party, when the Party used taxpayers’ money to finance a pre-election campaign under the guise of promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan, when it changed the wording in government communications to promote itself, when it showed that it is acceptable for a minister to alter a document and make misleading statements to the House, when it refused to provide a parliamentary committee with the costs of its proposals, and when it improperly prorogued Parliament.
The whole motion is a litany of a clear demonstration of abuse of power.
Lawrence Martin, in his column in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday, said, “It's not the parts that count but the sum of the parts. Which invites the question: Is anyone doing the math?”
In the preface of Donald Savoie's book, Power: Where Is It?, he says:
My hope is that this book will shed some light on how the current situation came about and why. More particularly, I hope that it will prompt citizens to take a strong and informed interest in the state of their political and administrative institutions and organizations.
I hope the debate today will do that for Canadians as well.
There is a lament that Canadians still do not really understand the difference between Parliament and government. In a parliamentary democracy, it is the job of all parliamentarians to hold the government to account, the government meaning the executive cabinet and the public service.
Even though the motion of the Bloc Québécois only cites the government, there is also a lament for the fact that the Conservative members of Parliament do not understand that it is their job to hold their government to account as well. They have totally abdicated their responsibility, particularly today. They actually refuse to debate this very important motion and do nothing but speak about another brochure for the economic action plan.
It is important, particularly today, after the historic ruling of the Speaker of the House yesterday, that the civic literacy of Canadians be raised such that they too understand and be uncomfortable that this very institution has been degraded. The very institution of a parliamentary democracy is much lessened.
That the members opposite find it impossible to defend the indefensible or to speak to the important items in this motion makes them complicit in the concerns that we have about the government. I regret and also lament that this is in a chamber that was made for hon. members to do our part in holding the government to account and speak and vote for what we believe to be true and just.
It is ironic that in the very foundation document of the Reform Party of Canada, written by the now Prime Minister, the description of an assault on a democracy was:
Many of our most serious problems as a country can be traced to the apathy and non-involvement of Canadians in public affairs, and to decisions that too frequently ignore the popular will…. We believe in accountability of elected representatives to the people who elect them, and that the duty of elected members to their constituents should supersede their obligations to their political parties.
It is quite interesting how quickly the Prime Minister forgot that.
It was extraordinary to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons say, on Tuesday:
The tyranny of the opposition majority has been reckless and irresponsible in its demands for the production of documents that would breach cabinet confidence, and now the tyranny of the majority is being reckless and irresponsible with the long-standing practice and principle of parliamentary democracy, the sub judice convention, by passing judgment on individuals without any respect for due process.
Another member opposite called this a “kangaroo court”. This morning we had a member opposite heckle that this was a “garbage motion”.
There is nothing more serious in the state of our democracy. As the parliamentary procedure expert, Ned Franks, said:
—no government in Canadian history has been cited so many times for ignoring the rights of Parliament.
He offered two possible explanations:
[The rulings] suggest, to put it kindly, that the government is, at a minimum, ignorant of the rules and principles governing parliamentary democracy and, to put it unkindly, that they don’t give a damn and they'll try to get away with what they can.
As the leader of the official opposition has said:
These are very clear and crushing judgments. They make it clear that this Speaker believes this government does not respect the democratic principles at the heart of our democracy.
He has stated that Canadians will have will have two questions about the Prime Minister:
Can you trust him with power? Can you trust him to respect the institutions that keep us free?
In the Globe and Mail this morning there was a definition of “contempt”:
Contempt in its ordinary meaning is not terribly far off the legal one, and it is that ordinary meaning--lack of respect, intense dislike, scorn--that offers a useful guide to understanding Wednesday’s ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken. The government has scorned Parliament, and shown—
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
2011-03-10 11:41 [p.8883]
The government has scorned Parliament, and shown a lack of respect to the people entrusted by Canadians to represent their interests...
The editorial concludes:
It is unacceptable that the government needs to be lectured by the Speaker on how to live within the rules of Canadian democracy.
I believe that speaks to the Bloc motion today.
We have been worried for a long time. The hon. member from Mount Royal said a long time ago that Parliament had been caught in a pincer movement between an activist judiciary and an ever more powerful executive branch.
Others have bemoaned the fact that sometimes governments view this Parliament as a minor process obstacle. Others have suggested that this now has become a suggestion box that we hang Christmas lights on once a year.
The late Jim Travers pointed out that the mantra on the Hill is now, “It has taken 500 years to wrestle power from the king and 50 years to get it back into one man's office”.
It was over two years ago that the late Jim Travers wrote his award-winning article, “The quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy”, when he compared his experience as a foreign correspondent in Africa to what is happening now.
He said:
Read the headlines, examine the evidence, plot the trend line dots and find that as Africans--from turnaround Ghana to impoverished Malawi--struggle to strengthen their democracies, Canadians are letting theirs slip.
He went on to say:
Once-solid institutions are being pulled apart by rising complexity and falling legitimacy.
He said that it would have been unthinkable that 30 years ago he would have:
—rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account.
I think he would have been very happy by the Speaker's ruling yesterday.
He went on to say is:
—every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.
He said:
Prime ministers are freeing themselves from the chains that once bound them to voters, Parliament, cabinet and party. From bottom to top, from citizen to head of state, every link in those chains is stressed, fractured or broken.
He concluded that famous article with:
If war is too serious to leave to generals, then surely democracy is too important to delegate to politicians.
I believe the Bloc Québécois motion today is a cry to all Canadians to come and help. We must. The cornerstone of every democracy is that citizens are actually paying attention.
In Robin Sears' article in Policy Options in the fall, he talked about that the problem with Parliament was not so much the gridlock of the minority House, it was the systemic issue found in all political capitals, namely, the growth in the power of the executive branch and the consequent decline in the role of the legislatures.
What we are really limiting here today is when we have that kind of concentration of power, we actually then have to rely on the person with the power to act with integrity. The Prime Minister and the government has nothing but contempt for democratic institutions. He thinks he makes the rules and tries to get around any restrictions placed on his power. In fact, in Tuktoyaktuk last summer, when asked if he had a licence when he was driving an ATV, he let it slip that he made the rules.
Yesterday, in Frances Russell's column, she said of the government:
It is dismantling, layer by layer, nearly 150 years of Canadian parliamentary democracy. Into the trash can has gone respect for the institution and traditions of Parliament, moderation in public discourse, toleration of differences of opinion, respect for civil society's institutions and even, at times, respect for the rule of law.Politics outside Parliament has descended into a cesspool of perpetual savage political attack ads. The poisonous hyperpartisanship of the American permanent election campaign is the new Canadian norm. Inside Parliament, the opposition is largely unable to hold government to account because ministers treat opposition MPs with flippancy, disdain, contempt, derision and insults.
On her blog yesterday, Susan Delacourt was trying to draw the distinction between value and values. She said that for the past five years the Conservatives have gambled, that voters only care about value, as we can certainly see today from the pathetic attempt of the Conservatives to defend themselves in their speeches. She said:
But if our collective attention turns to values, surrounding ethics, respect, character and idea-based politics, the Conservatives could be at a distinct disadvantage.
There may also be a conversation about value, about the value of this institution, the value of members of Parliament, and particularly the value of members of Parliament on the government side who have to expect better of their government at many times.
I remember when I was a new member of Parliament there were many times when we had to, as women's caucus or as backbench MPs, expect our government to do better. Whether it was to protect habitat on the endangered species bill or to do better for people with mental illness on the disability tax credit, we as parliamentarians, even sitting on the government side, were very organized in getting our government to do the right thing and to do better for Canadians. That is what hon. members do.
We cannot expect members of Parliament to just suit up in their team jerseys and treat this place like a sporting event, spewing forth talking points, quite often either purposely misleading, purposely saying half-truths or actual outright lies. It is sad to see this place where members of Parliament from the government side think that is what they were sent here to do, to just do the bidding of the government instead of actually doing their job as members of Parliament and holding government to account.
Albert Einstein once said that anyone who does not take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.
It is astounding that so many of the items mentioned in the Bloc motion are really about not telling the truth. It is about lying on the smallest things, but it is also deliberate selection of the facts to purposely mislead. When the government said that the Conservative Party had been exonerated at the lower court, it was actually misleading Canadians by saying that the in and out scandal had been okayed by the court. It was very clear in that judgment that it was not at all. Clearly, in the judgment the court said that it wanted the Director of Public Prosecutions to continue its work, which of course ended up in four charges being laid.
This seems to be a government that does not want to tell the truth, where the end justifies the means. It is a government that prefers to play only with people who agree with it and discredits those who challenge it. We believe that Canadians would prefer a government that just tells the truth. We believe that many governments can balance a budget. The current government does not seem to be able to. However, Canadians require and should be able to expect actual truthfulness and a competent and honest government that will actually govern.
As can be seen by the details in the Bloc motion, it is a government that has done nothing but run an administration that campaigns. It is a campaign machine. It is not a government. It actually refuses to govern and refuses to abide by the rules.
Democracy is sometimes messy. Sometimes it is slow. Sometimes it requires space and time. However, this kind of top-down, autocratic decision-making which actually means that people can get around the rules or even break them is a very sad day for Canadian democracy.
Integrity means that people will act within the rules, act in the public good, even when they are not being watched.
The government came to power saying that it was going to improve transparency and accountability, and it has gone in exactly the opposite direction.
Even on the accountability front, if the Conservatives believe what is right is what one gets away with and what is wrong is what one gets caught doing, even when the Conservatives get caught, all they do is say that everybody else did it, even if that is not the truth.
The British North America Act talks about passing laws and peace, order and good government.
The Bloc Québécois motion says that we do not have good government and we have a government that does not think it needs to act in the best interests of Canadians or within the law.
In honour of the late Jim Travers, whose parting benediction was always to fly straight, I think today we hope, in his memory, the government will fly straight or that we will get another government that will.
View Pat Martin Profile
View Pat Martin Profile
2011-03-10 12:02 [p.8886]
Madam Speaker, I want to recognize my colleague's reference in her speech to the late Jim Travers and what he might think if he were here to comment and write an editorial on the erosion of democracy as it is unfolding today under the guidance of the Conservative government. What does she think, as a close personal friend, his reaction would have been?
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
2011-03-10 12:02 [p.8886]
Madam Speaker, I think Mr. Travers would have been heartened by the decision of the Speaker yesterday.
We need to ensure that many of us take up the torch to ensure that Canadians understand that their parliamentary democracy is at risk.
I remember one of Mr. Travers' columns crashed the Toronto Star website in terms of the interest. We just have to keep going in his honour.
View Pat Martin Profile
View Pat Martin Profile
2011-03-10 12:03 [p.8886]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from St. Paul's for making reference to Jim Travers who recently passed away. I will begin my speech where she left off in her remarks as to what Mr. Travers may think of the state of democracy as it is today.
I will remind members and all Canadians that our democracy is a fragile construct at best. If we are not vigilant in reinforcing it, buttressing it and strengthening it in everything we do, then the inverse is true. It begins to diminish, deteriorate and to be undermined incrementally. These incremental changes are sometimes so subtle that we hardly notice them, but when compiled they create a critical mass that, without overstating things, threatens the integrity of the democracy that we are duty bound to uphold in the House of Commons today.
In a seminal piece of political commentary that Jim Travers wrote on April 4, 2009, for which he won the 2009 National Newspaper Award, he pointed out that, as a foreign correspondent for many years, he witnessed democracy beginning to unfold in many of his postings in Africa and other places he lived. At the same time as he was watching the state of democracy in those underdeveloped nations, he thought of Canada, as he put it, as a cold but shimmering Camelot where ballots, not bullets, changed governments, where men and women in uniform were discreet servants of the state, where our institutions were structurally sound, where corruption was firmly enough in check that scandals were aberrations, demanding public scrutiny and sometimes even justice. He went on to lament that he was witnessing Canadians allowing their democracy slip.
I forgot to mention that I will be splitting my time with my colleague for Hamilton Centre.
My colleague from Hamilton Centre and I both attended Jim Travers' memorial on Tuesday night, along with about 1,000 well-wishers from all walks of life, but notably politicians, journalists and people in those industries, lamenting his loss.
Mr. Travers pointed out that our Camelot was under siege because, as I point out, incrementally, step by step, death by 1,000 cuts, we are witnessing the erosion and the deterioration of the institution that our fathers very proudly built up. He stated what his response would have been in the 1980s, by saying:
I would have rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account. I would have treated as ridiculous any forecast that the senior bureaucracy would become politicized, that many of the powers of a monarch would flow from Parliament to the prime minister or that the authority of the Governor General, the de facto head of state, would be openly challenged.
Yet every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.
That sets the framework for the debate we are having today on the Bloc Quebecois' opposition day motion that is blowing the whistle, sounding the alarm, sending an alert to Canadians that if we are not careful the very institutions by which we define ourselves as Canadians will be undermined, diminished and, in fact, will disappear.
There were a series of events leading up to the opposition day motion that outlines the threat to democracy. I will frame my remarks by citing the opening of this opposition day motion.
That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology....
I will not go on, but I would say that it is at the expense of putting the best interests of Canadians first and the lofty ideals of accountability and transparency that the Conservatives promised Canadians when they took power five years ago.
I will begin with the in and out scandal itself, which is one of three offences that we are citing here today.
We want our government to fix health care, not elections. It offends the sensibilities of Canadians to see a systematic, deliberate, premeditated and well-orchestrated conspiracy to defraud the spending limits of the Canada Elections Act.
I would mention that the spending limits of the Canada Elections Act is one of the fundamental cornerstones of our democracy and, I believe, it is one of the things that differentiates us from the Americans. We believe big money in the United States has undermined democracy to a great extent. We believe in this country that nobody should be able to buy an election based on having deeper pockets or a fatter chequebook. Yet, that is exactly what the Conservatives have done by willingly and knowingly put in place a scheme to exceed the spending limits and gain an unfair competitive advantage over the other parties.
All we want is a level playing field so that Canadians can decide the merits of a party based on its policies, platform and promises, not based on being carpet bombed and blitzed by advertising campaigns that have little to do with what the government actually intends to do.
I will point out the echo effect of this offence. It is even more egregious that these riding associations that conspired with their party to defraud the Canada Elections Act enjoy an echo effect in that the ill-gotten gains from the first offence went on to bankroll the Conservatives' next election campaign in 2008, compounding the offence.
I point out as well that there is a whole second tier to the in and out scandal, which has been talked about very little. While 67 riding associations conspired to defraud the spending limits for advertising purposes, another 50 riding associations conspired to defraud the spending limits on polling. This is rarely talked about. Sixteen of those 50 riding associations conducted complete in and out transactions, such as the member for Essex I believe, where $20,000 were transferred into their bank accounts and within 24 hours or so that same $20,000 was transferred out. However, this time they said that it was for polling.
What a ludicrous notion. No one would ever conduct a public opinion poll in his or her riding in the middle of an election campaign. It would be a complete waste of money. However, the national party spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on daily national polls throughout an election campaign.
In this case, the second ridiculous thing is that one could not spend $20,000 on a local poll in one riding association. I do not think it can be done. I have had estimates and they range from $2,500 to $4,500 for a 400-person, 20-question survey. This was a way for the federal party to exceed its spending limits and call national expenses local expenses so that it could also get the rebate in its local riding association.
I look forward to the RCMP and the Director of Public Prosecutions expanding the charges laid to include this second polling scheme.
Let us not forget that when the Conservative government says that it is co-operating fully with the investigation, the RCMP had to kick down the doors of the Conservative Party headquarters with a search warrant and seize all of its records and documents. It did not do it co-operatively.
We also must not forget that 31 summons were issued by the ethics committee and the Conservatives advised 31 people to ignore the summons to the ethics committee. That is an erosion of parliamentary democracy.
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