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View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Chris Bittle Profile
2020-02-28 10:37 [p.1732]
Madam Speaker, it seems we hit a nerve. It is clear the members of the opposition do not want to go forward on this important bill, a bill that is required, that businesses are crying out for, that farmers are crying out for, that people across the country want us to move forward on, but we are playing gotcha politics and we are playing petty politics on this particular day.
I would like to offer some comment on the importance of what we are debating today. This is not a motion that will likely attract the attention of many Canadians outside this chamber or outside the Ottawa bubble. It does not touch on the issues that are important to many of our constituents: the economy, jobs, affordability, climate change, health care, pensions, reconciliation with indigenous people, keeping our streets safe and securing Canada's place in the world.
These are, of course, the issues that are at the forefront of our government's agenda. These are the issues on which our government was elected to make changes. These are the issues on which our government has a mandate from Canadians.
This motion today does not call on the House to have a constructive debate on any of these matters. Make no mistake, the motion from the Conservative House leader has profound implications for Parliament and for the democratic system that we cherish. It is a motion that is reflective of the Conservatives themselves. While they were in government and during recent years in opposition, we have all seen their track record.
In government, under Stephen Harper, Conservatives showed disdain for Parliament and for all the members on the opposition benches. In opposition, under the current leader, who will be replaced in June, they have continued to show disdain for the traditions and decorum of this chamber. They heckle when I talk about decorum in this chamber, which is ironic.
Canadians have not forgotten the behaviour of the Conservatives in the 41st Parliament, as well as in the last one. It is the Conservatives who, all too often, held the House of Commons hostage with political tactics and manoeuvres, repeatedly obstructing MPs from debating important legislation. On more than one occasion, they forced the House to hold all-night marathon vote sessions. They voted against funding for infrastructure during that time, on national defence, veterans, police, security, VIA Rail services, Parks Canada, indigenous peoples and more.
This was a political stunt, and Liberal MPs stood proudly to vote in favour of those services that are important to Canadians. One of these voting marathons kept MPs in the chamber for 30 hours in the last Parliament. This came at a cost to Parliament's reputation and literally a cost to the taxpayers. Indeed, the Conservatives' current House leader said in a news release, when she was part of a previous Conservative government that was facing an NDP filibuster in 2011, that these tactics cost the House of Commons an additional $50,000 per hour to stay open. Where was that outrage in the last Parliament?
One of the Conservatives' most shameful episodes was when they tried to prevent the finance minister from reading his budget speech in the chamber by banging on their desks and shouting him down, like bullies in a schoolyard. It was an undignified spectacle.
These are the political stunts that the Conservatives like to call tools from their tool box. It is quite the tool box. This behaviour from the Conservative opposition has done nothing to restore Canadians' trust in Parliament. In fact, I fear what they have done has deepened the cynicism among all of our constituents.
Unfortunately, it has become clear that the Conservatives have not changed since the last Parliament. Last Thursday, they kept MPs in Ottawa for a vote on a opposition day, which never happened because once everyone had missed their flights home, they deferred the vote to the following Monday. MPs missed events in their riding, they missed spending time with their kids, husbands, wives and families. Why did they do this? For one reason: they could.
Simply a day later, on Friday, the Conservatives dipped into their bag of tricks again to obstruct the work of Parliament. On that day, members were debating Bill C-3, supported by all parties, including the Conservatives, that would bring great improvements to the accountability of the Canada Border Services Agency, and yet the Conservatives moved to literally shut down the business of the House that day.
They moved a motion to adjourn the House at 12:30 p.m., during their lunch hour. I know most Canadians do not move to end their work during their lunch hour, but the Conservatives did. They wanted to turn off the lights for the day. When that did not work, they attempted to adjourn debate again. When that failed, they attempted to shut down the House early, again.
These political stunts consumed over two hours of time in the House. The Conservatives' objective was clear: preventing the House from debating this important legislation. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Without a doubt, the Conservatives have shown their true colours. They do not believe in Parliament.
Conservatives have shown this once again with the motion we are debating today, for at the heart of what the Conservative opposition members hope to achieve is tilting the balance from long-standing practices and procedures that have served the House well for many decades. This balance is simple in its design but crucial to its core.
The following is what makes our parliamentary system so successful. When an election happens, Canadians send their elected representatives to the House of Commons to act on their behalf. The government is elected with the responsibility to move forward on the agenda that Canadians have given it. That means introducing legislation, ensuring it receives vibrant debate from all sides and ultimately bringing legislation to a vote. There is limited time in the parliamentary calendar, and the government must always endeavour to schedule the time Parliament needs to examine and vote on its legislation.
Across the aisle, the opposition has the responsibility to hold the government to account and raise issues of public concern. Our system, under standing orders, allows for supply days to be scheduled. These days are also known as opposition days. On these days, government legislation is not debated. Instead, the opposition has the opportunity to bring forward a motion for debate and, ultimately, a vote.
This is the balance. Parliament needs time to debate legislation and to debate the supply days motion from the opposition. We believe Parliament can strike that balance.
Already we have come forward with important bills to ratify the new NAFTA, improve the CBSA, require training for judges on sexual assault, modernize the oath of citizenship and adjust the rules surrounding medical assistance in dying. These are just some of the parts of our platform to keep moving forward with policies that are both ambitious and achievable.
Our throne speech in December provided a road map for Parliament that outlines our agenda. We want to strengthen the middle class, make life more affordable for Canadians, protect the environment, fight climate change, improve the lives of indigenous people and secure Canada's place in the world.
Canadians sent us all a message in the recent election. They want us all to work together, and we agree. Indeed, we believe the House of Commons is a place where we can work on legislation to make important decisions for Canadians. Every day, we work hard in Parliament to find common ground on behalf of the Canadians who sent us all here.
While this happens, while we debate the merits of legislation and look to improve it, the opposition has many opportunities to bring issues to the forefront. This happens routinely in question period, and I would be remiss if I did not remind the House that it was our government that made fundamental changes to question period. It was our government that created the prime minister's question period on Wednesdays. Our Prime Minister answers every question during question period from all sides of the House.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Chris Bittle: Madam Speaker, again we hear heckling from the other side. It is something Stephen Harper would never do in his wildest dreams, but something that the Prime Minister put forward to make himself accountable to the opposition, to Parliament, so that Canadians can hear the government's agenda. This is true accountability.
In addition to this, there are supply days. Today is the 26th sitting of the session. In December, as the previous supply period ended, the Conservatives were allotted an opposition day in which they put forward their motions. In this supply period, which runs from December 11 to March 26, seven days are allotted for opposition days. These are the rules under the Standing Orders.
Today marks the sixth opposition day. The Conservatives had four of those opposition days, and the Bloc and NDP have each had one to present their motions to the House for debate and a vote. Under the rules, one more opposition day remains up to March 26. Once we get to the next supply period, from April to June, there will be eight more opposition days.
This is the balance I spoke of. It works, it is democratic, yet the Conservatives are proposing to turn their backs on the Standing Orders and tilt the balance by adding three more opposition days to this supply period.
There would be a consequence to this change. There would be three fewer days for members of the House to debate legislation that Canadians have elected the government to move forward with. The motives behind the Conservatives' political tactic are transparent. They do not believe Parliament is a democratic institution to achieve consensus and change for Canadians. When Conservatives do not like the rules, they simply bulldoze over them.
This is a stunning hypocrisy given that the Conservatives continually preach that any rule change needs to have the unanimous support of all parties, but this should surprise no one. When it suits their needs Conservatives are willing to do anything, even if they were against it before they were for it.
They have become politically isolated and are in the midst of a leadership race that is exposing their own divisions. They are increasingly becoming irrelevant. Their objective is to obstruct the government's agenda. We are committed to making that agenda a reality.
I would like to talk about some examples of what we want to accomplish. There is no greater challenge facing this country and the world than fighting climate change. We believe strongly in this government's pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change. It is no surprise that Conservatives do not want to debate that because, for the last five years that I have been here, we have heard the language of denial, mistrust of scientists and doing nothing.
We are committed to building upon this plan to ensure Canadian businesses will seize on the immense economic opportunities that are involved in the transition to the clean economy of the 21st century. We will set a target to achieve net-zero by 2050. Our goal will be ambitious but necessary, as we protect the environment but grow the economy.
We will help make energy-efficient homes more affordable. We will make it easier for Canadians to buy zero-emissions vehicles. We will cut taxes for all Canadians except the wealthiest. This will provide more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians who need it the most.
To many Canadians who are unable to buy their first home, we will continue to take action with significant investments in affordable housing. We will introduce measures to make it easy for more people to purchase homes. It would be nice to see the Conservatives' provincial counterparts take action on that as well and work with us as partners to make affordable housing a reality in the provinces across the country.
Canadian workers, families and seniors are facing anxieties about making ends meet. We will assist parents with the time and money they need to raise their children. We will support students as they bear the cost of higher education and skills training. We will increase the federal minimum wage. We will reduce cellphone bills by 25%, and strengthen pensions for our seniors.
Four years ago, we promised to put Canada on a path forward toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples. We put the country on that path and we will keep Canada firmly on that path. The work toward reconciliation has not ended.
Once again, I hear heckling on that, but the leaders of their party talk about sending in the army. They call indigenous protesters terrorists, yet they are the ones heckling us on our record on reconciliation when the Harper government did absolutely nothing on the subject.
Canadians are worried about gun violence in our communities and we will crack down on this. We will also ban military-style assault rifles. We will work with provinces and territories to strengthen the health care system to get the service Canadians deserve. Once again, it is shocking that we are debating changes to the standing order, rather than talking about issues like climate change or health care.
Pharmacare, for example, has become one of the key missing pieces of universal health care in this country. Our government will take steps to introduce and implement a national pharmacare program so that Canadians have the drug coverage they need.
I cite these examples of where we intend to lead the country. We believe that parliamentarians must put the interests of Canadians first. Parliament is not a place only to debate our disagreements, but also a place to come together and find common ground. This is what can happen when we maintain the crucial balance about which I have spoken.
I would implore members to look at the legislation before this chamber, as well as the bills before us in the future, and work together on all of those bills. Parliament needs time to debate those bills, to scrutinize them and, when necessary, improve them. It is not time for political stunts and obstructions. This is the time for constructive debate, returning our attention to the legislation that can improve the lives of Canadians. It is the time to do the right thing for Parliament.
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