Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity to listen to a lot of dialogue on this issue today. I want to try break the issue down into two or three parts, but I will begin by talking about the process. The process is important, because we want to make sure as much as possible that we are getting off on the right foot.
There has always been a great deal of support for our standing committees, and that has been clearly demonstrated over the last four years. Even in the days when I was in opposition, I have always highlighted the importance of the role our standing committees play in the parliamentary precinct and the fine work they do for Canadians in all regions of our country. I think we often underestimate how important that role can be.
I will highlight some of the questions I have put forward to a number of members opposite.
First, I have been trying as much as I could to challenge them to tell me why they believe a standing committee would not be able to do what this special committee they are proposing would be able to do.
The House will do whatever it wants to do with regard to the motion. We will have to wait for the vote itself, but I am fairly uncomfortable with it, and I will say why.
We are at the beginning of a session, relatively speaking, and when we came out of the last election, there was a fairly clear message that had been sent to all of us. The message was that Canadians want this Parliament to work. They want to see a higher sense of responsibility, co-operation and so forth.
If given a little time, I believe I could identify quite easily a dozen or so issues that I could bring to the fore for the next 12 consecutive days in which we sit. I could say that the issues were so very important that they were vital to Canadian interests, and by God, we should establish a special committee of the House of Commons so that members could give it thorough debate and discussion and call witnesses and so forth. I am actually convinced of it, and that is just on my own. If I were allowed the opportunity and time to sit down with many of the colleagues on both sides of this House, I could more than quadruple that list. I could come up with virtually an endless list of issues for which we could have special committees of this House and ask the special committee, in the name of doing good for Canadians from coast to coast to coast, to debate those issues in the form of a special committee.
However, I would suggest that we do not need to do that, because we have very able-minded parliamentarians on all sides of this House who would be afforded the opportunity to sit down in standing committees, and there are a good number of standing committees. I believe there are 24 standing committees. Maybe someone at the Clerk's office can let me know if I am wrong.
Each one of those committees will have a chair and several vice-chairs. Each one of those committees will have opposition majorities when it comes to setting the agenda. Therefore, if members really believe in co-operation, and I hear a lot of individuals say that co-operation is good and they want to work towards it, does that mean that when it comes to committees, we should then strive to achieve a consensus in a minority situation, as opposed to a simple majority vote? Are members prepared to say that in certain situations, we should be looking for consensus on certain topics as we go into the committee stage?
I suspect that often we will find that this decision will be determined at the standing committee in question. The personalities and the makeup of that committee will ultimately determine how that committee is going to perform into the future, over the next six months, 18 months, three years or whatever the mandate is going to be. I would say to new members and to members who have not participated on standing committees in the past that these standing committees really vary with respect to the types of things they are able to accomplish. I would argue that we have had first-class reports from the standing committees. They have done an outstanding job.
Their scope is very wide. If a committee wants to study x, y and z, even if it is not specifically directed to do so, there might be an indirect link to it, and that committee would have the authority to do so if that is the will of the committee.
One of the first things a committee will do after it elects a chair and the vice-chairs is establish a steering committee or subcommittee. That committee will determine the important issues that it needs to face over the next x number of weeks, months or even possibly years. Some of the debates that are taking place here, in particular the one question I had posed, show that this is not a new issue, nor will it go away. Even opposition members have recognized that they have not clearly demonstrated the urgency. If they believed there was an urgency, I suspect they would be suggesting that there be an emergency debate on the issue. It does not mean it is not important; it is critically important, especially when I think of the Michaels who are being incarcerated.
Yes, China has crossed the line on several occasions. As a government, as a legislative body, the House of Commons does have a critical role to play, but the issue is whether we believe that standing committees of Parliament have that role to play, or are we going to leave it up to the House to be able to trump our standing committees on all occasions by saying that we do not have confidence in that standing committee because we do not believe it will prioritize this issue, so we are going to say what is going to be studied? Further to that, are we now going to tell them who they will call as witnesses? This motion clearly states that the opposition wants to see specific individuals come before that committee.
I would suggest that as parliamentarians and legislators, we have a wonderful opportunity to do something positive with respect to our standing committees. In a minority situation, it really opens the door for building a consensus and for bringing parliamentarians together.
I always find it interesting that while it can get fairly heated inside the House of Commons and the partisanship hats often will come on, if we go to some of those standing committees and watch some of the dialogue that takes place, we find that in many of those standing committees it is not the party hat the members are wearing but the parliamentarian hat.
I like to believe that we all represent our constituents first and we want to do what is in the best interests of Canada at all times, but often there is a different hat that is being worn. If we really want to deal with this issue, which is so critically important, I would suggest that the best venue to provide that opportunity is in fact the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. It does not have to be limited to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. It could be the international trade committee. I will talk a bit about this myself, but we often hear that there are other standing committees that could be dealing with this.
We have an opportunity here in the House to give a vote of confidence to what Canadians want to take place. I believe they want a higher sense of co-operation. They want more responsibility being taken in terms of actions on the floor of the House of Commons.
The Conservatives and opposition members and some others in the House are saying it has to be in the form of a special committee, and quite frankly, they may be in a majority today. I am appealing to members to recognize that we can accomplish something bigger with this debate today by recognizing just how important those standing committees are.
Let us constitute the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Let us get that committee and subcommittee or steering committee to meet and make the determination. Does it want to study this issue? I suspect it would. It sets its own hours. If it wants to meet for six hours a day for the next 12 months, five days a week, it can do that. It has a great deal of authority, especially in a minority situation.
It is not fair or appropriate to say what has happened in the past four, six or 10 years. We have had eight years now of majority governments, and now we have a minority government. Those individuals who like to say they are parliamentarians who believe in the fine and good work that Parliament does might want to reflect on what I believe is the backbone of the parliamentary institution, that being our standing committees.
In many ways, when we talk about reaching into our communities from coast to coast to coast, when we talk about bringing the type of expertise that is necessary for us as parliamentarians collectively in the House to make good, solid decisions, a lot of that background work could be done through our standing committees.
When I listen to the debate, I realize it is going to be tough for this motion to fail, and if it passes, it passes. I will accept that. After all, it is a minority situation and I will accept it, but yes, I will be somewhat disappointed, because I believe that we have passed on giving a vote of confidence in a very real and tangible way to our standing committees. I suggest that would be a lost opportunity.
Having said that, I want to talk about China.
China is a dictatorship. We all know that. We all have very serious concerns, and we are not the only parliamentarians to have very serious concerns. This could be dated back all the way to the time when we were a confederation, when we came together as a country over 150 years ago. China is a dictatorship, and all the negative issues related to a dictatorship often will surface at different points in time in history.
It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who made significant steps toward softening the relationship between Canada as a democratic country and China as a dictatorship, but he was not alone at the time. The United States of America was doing the same thing, and so did prime ministers who followed, such as Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau.
I remember when Jean Chrétien, I think it was in 1993-94, had the big team Canada mission to China. Liberals, Conservatives and possibly even New Democrats went to China to talk about establishing a healthier and stronger relationship hopefully to deal with some of the issues that go beyond just the economy. Stephen Harper continued it. China does not give a gift of pandas because it does not like someone; the pandas are a gift because it believes there is a relationship. That is what China did with Stephen Harper.
Does it mean that during the times that Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper were prime minister there were not problems? Trust me, there were problems. There were still problems related to human rights and the rule of law. Issues of that nature still existed even during the 1990s and the 10 years of Stephen Harper's government. In the relationship between Canada and China there will always be tension, because China is a dictatorship and we are a democracy. We believe in the rule of law. We believe in human rights.
From a Liberal Party perspective, we are the ones who brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We understand how important the rule of law and freedom of speech are, all of the principles of democracy. Do we have concerns? Absolutely, we have concerns. Are we happy with many of the things taking place? Absolutely we are not.
I come from the Prairies, and there is a large pork industry in the province of Manitoba. There are more pigs than people in the province of Manitoba, and it relies heavily on exports to Asia. The pork industry is very important to Manitoba. Canola and other agricultural commodities are very important to Manitoba. However, as has been pointed out, Manitoba is not going to sell out for the dollar. We must understand and appreciate the importance of having a balance.
Human rights issues are always hot topics in the Liberal caucus, and I suspect with all political parties in this chamber. I like to think there is a balance for some members, but the balance has gone a little too far one way or the other, and they want to see it rectified. That balance kind of fluctuates depending on which member one talks to, even listening to some of the comments we heard today in the chamber. At the end of the day, where there is consensus is that Canada needs to take action.
Let there be no doubt that Canada has taken action. There is a consequence for what China has been doing. Other countries such as Australia, France, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, those in NATO and more have all recognized the injustice that has taken place between Canada and China and are onside with Canada on the issue. If allowed to continue, this will continue to harm China and its place in the world. Canada and this government, with the support of members, can ensure we have the right balance in protecting and ensuring that human rights always remain a priority for the House of Commons in Ottawa.
To conclude my remarks, I would hope that members across the way would agree with the importance of the issue and that we have within our institution a great opportunity to give a vote of confidence to our standing committees and hopefully a standing committee will take on this role, because it will not be a one-time thing. This will be ongoing in the years ahead.