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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 John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
View John Baird Profile
2011-03-25 12:06 [p.9265]
Mr. Speaker, I rise once again to try to bring unity to the House, changing the subject to do something good for Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, following Question Period today a member from each recognized party and the Deputy Speaker may make a brief statement and the time taken for these statements shall be added to the time provided for government orders.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
View John Baird Profile
CPC (ON)
View John Baird Profile
2011-03-25 12:07 [p.9265]
Mr. Speaker, I am very privileged to rise today to pay tribute to a great Canadian, someone who will not be seeking re-election to this place after serving 23 years as the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands. I am, of course, talking about you, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker and I have known each other since I was 19 years old when I was a young Queen's University student. Our first encounter was rather interesting and I think he knows what I am talking about. I was protesting the Speaker when he was running against the Honourable Flora Isabel MacDonald. All judicial matters were cleared up a few months after that first encounter.
Mr. Speaker, for four terms as the Speaker, you have conducted yourself with great integrity, with great professionalism. You are thoughtful. You are intelligent. You have enjoyed the confidence of this House each and every sitting day of those four terms. That is a remarkable accomplishment.
You are aware that you have been elected by majority Liberal governments, by minority Liberal governments, and by minority Conservative governments. I think it speaks to the number of friends and the high esteem in which you are held by each and every member of this place.
After becoming government House leader, I had an opportunity to visit the Palace of Westminster, the mother of all parliaments. The Speaker of the House of Commons there said that he and Speakers in the Commonwealth around the world looked to you as their leader and their inspiration as someone who has conducted himself very professionally. For a Canadian to hear that from a British Speaker is a pretty remarkable conclusion and assessment of your role as Speaker.
Not only are you the longest serving Speaker in Canadian history, you have also been elected, so others who have served at great length did not have that distinction. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, you will go down in history as one of the best Speakers, if not the best Speaker, that the House of Commons has ever had.
On behalf of the Prime Minister, on behalf of the government caucus, on behalf of the people of Canada, and I think especially on behalf of the people of Kingston and the Islands, we want to thank you for your remarkable contribution to Parliament and your remarkable public service to this great country. We want to wish you well.
View Michael Ignatieff Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, it is with sadness and emotion that I rise to pay tribute to you today. We are saying goodbye to a wonderful parliamentarian, the member for Kingston and the Islands, and a great Canadian who has left his mark on this institution, which we all hold so dear. We salute you.
You were elected Speaker by your colleagues four times, making you the longest-serving Speaker in the House and only the second one to have been chosen from the opposition benches. Ten deciding votes have been cast by Speakers of the House since 1867 and you have cast five of them, which is extraordinary.
You have been the voice of this House. You have inspired us—sometimes with kindness, sometimes with firmness, sometimes with great conviction and emotion—to better understand the rules governing this House and Canadian democracy. If only for that, the country owes you so very much.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, as chair of the procedure and House affairs committee, as Deputy Speaker, and now as Speaker, you have built a legacy that will outlast you and that will endure in the annals of this Parliament.
At the end of your tenure, we all regret, if I may add, that another great lover of parliamentary democracy and procedure, our friend and your friend, Jerry Yanover, is not here to celebrate with us your incredible achievement.
With your departure, Mr. Speaker, this place loses a faithful guardian of our best traditions. We also lose a fierce protector of its privileges. Few Canadians have done more to affirm the supremacy of Parliament. Three times in the last year, you have stood in this House to defend our democracy against the abuse of power. Your rulings are the consummation of a career spent in the service of our institutions and they will echo in the history of our Parliament. For your devotion to this place, you have our gratitude and our respect.
Today, the House stands poised to make history of its own and to make an important and historic choice. The irony is that if this House were to find the government in contempt, it would have one consequence, which all of us deeply regret: We would send a great Speaker into retirement.
So farewell, Mr. Speaker. This House will miss you and we will never forget you.
View Pierre Paquette Profile
BQ (QC)
View Pierre Paquette Profile
2011-03-25 12:13 [p.9266]
Mr. Speaker, before paying you a well-deserved tribute, I would like to acknowledge the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who has announced that she will not be running for office in the next election. I wish to salute her.
It is an immense privilege for me to pay tribute to the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands. Not only are you the longest-serving Speaker in the history of Canada's Parliament, but you managed this feat in a very special context. This has been pointed out, but I believe it deserves to be repeated.
What I would like to say is that, on four occasions, after four consecutive elections, no matter which party was power, no matter whether it was a majority or minority government, the member for Kingston and the Islands was elected by his peers to preside over our deliberations and to be the guardian of the rules of procedure and the traditions of the House of Commons. In my opinion, the confidence the House has expressed in you, four times over, and in a secret ballot, is a great feat, even more than your longevity as the Speaker of the House of Commons.
If I had to describe your work in one sentence, I would say that it is obvious that all your actions have been guided by your profound knowledge of the institution of the House of Commons. This knowledge is the fruit of your hard work and obvious passion for parliamentary business. It is public knowledge that, even as an adolescent, the Speaker of the House was an avid reader of Hansard. Of course.
With this in-depth knowledge of the institution, the member for Kingston and the Islands quickly became the defender of the rules and traditions of the House of Commons at a time when, need we be reminded, these rules and traditions could easily have been diminished. In fact, for more than five years, you have presided over a House of Commons with a minority government. Since 2004, with a number of your decisions, you ensured that the balance between parliamentarians' rights and the government's prerogatives was maintained. It was not always an easy task, I must say.
We will remember you, in your role as the Speaker of the House of Commons, as a man with an engaging personality and whose integrity, intelligence, judgment and knowledge, not to mention sense of humour, have been a source of admiration and inspiration for us all throughout these years.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, allow me to offer, on behalf of the members of the Bloc Québécois and myself, our most sincere congratulations for the quality and longevity of your tenure as Speaker of the House of Commons. Allow me to say, one last time, thank you for everything, Mr. Speaker.
View Libby Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
View Libby Davies Profile
2011-03-25 12:16 [p.9267]
Mr. Speaker, you have given a decade of service to all members of Parliament as our Speaker. Maybe this day is no different from all those others spent occupying the chair, listening to endless points of order that really are not points of order, making your rulings and seeking order, seeking order, and still more order.
Of course, it is different today, in that this appears to be the last such day. So it is fitting that we pay you tribute, and I do so on behalf of our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, and our entire NDP caucus.
Mr. Speaker, you were elected or acclaimed as Speaker on four occasions, and it is no small feat in itself to have earned the respect of the House so many times over. You presided at many critical moments, including being the only Speaker ever to decide a confidence vote in 2005.
Mr. Speaker, we remember you for your fairness, your impartiality and your good humour.
You know this place inside out and all of its strange practices that no one really understands but which, at certain moments, become important, even critical, to how we function and do our work for Canadians.
Most of all, though, Mr. Speaker, you will be remembered for your historic rulings on the disclosure of documents dealing with Afghanistan, other document disclosure and questions of contempt, which bring us here today.
You have been our guardian and the guardian of our Parliament. I think it was best said in an article just yesterday in Maclean's magazine, which concluded:
Amid much gnashing of teeth over the state of our parliamentary democracy, [the Speaker] reasserted the power and preeminence of the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP members, we wish you well. We hope you are not left to muttering “Order” in your sleep. We thank you for your service as an honourable Speaker, and we thank your family for sharing you with us and for the work you have done so well.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Andrew Scheer Profile
2011-03-25 12:18 [p.9267]
Mr. Speaker, I hope the House will allow me a few minutes to speak so that I, too, may pay tribute to you. I will not repeat all that we have already heard about your illustrious career as the Speaker of this historic Chamber.
Mr. Speaker, you have been the voice of the Commons for just over 10 years. I have been very proud to have served with you as a Chair for just about half of that time.
In your speech to the House on the first day of the current Parliament, you told members that in your view:
—in a minority House there are certain circumstances that require expertise, not merely experience.
That, I think, has become clear to all members who have served with you since you first took over the speakership of this House in the 37th Parliament. You have shown a great deal of expertise, and not merely experience.
Mr. Speaker, you have consistently demonstrated your vast knowledge of the rules and procedure that guide our deliberations and the precedents that guide the Speaker's rulings
But what stands out the most is the fact that, not only did you carry out your duties with a great deal of expertise, but you did so with a genuine love for Parliament, a true grasp of the important role this institution plays in Canada, and true commitment to its traditions.
Beauchesne's, citations 167 and 168, tells us that:
The essential ingredient of the speakership is found in the status of the Speaker as a servant of the House. The Presiding Officer, while but a servant of the House, is entitled on all occasions to be treated with the greatest attention and respect by the individual Members because the office embodies the power, dignity and honour of the House itself.
The chief characteristics attached to the office of Speaker in the House of Commons are authority and impartiality.
I think all members will agree that those are two characteristics you have displayed very well over the past several years.
Perhaps many Canadians do not know that the Speaker is often called upon to represent Canada abroad at meetings such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, with the speakers of other G8 countries and on bilateral diplomatic visits.
I can tell the members of the House and, indeed, all Canadians, that Canada was always very well represented when Speaker Milliken represented us.
Members of the next Parliament will no doubt miss your presence in the Chair. They will miss your affable nature in guiding this House through some interesting times, and they will certainly miss your expertise.
However, it is said that it is not what one gets out of something that one is remembered for, but what one leaves behind.
You can be proud of the legacy you are leaving here today. I am not talking only about statistics and numbers, as the longest-serving Speaker, for instance, or the highest number of votes taken, but rather as a Speaker who has left such a mark on the position that it is probably difficult for the members and for Canadians to imagine you no longer occupying the chair.
On behalf of all of those who have worked with you, both in the Chair and as table officers and as the many clerks you have served with over the years, I wish you all the best in whatever your days may bring. I know you will always be welcomed in these corridors.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
Before I begin my personal remarks, I would like to join the other hon. members in recognizing the presence here today of the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. Welcome. It is a pleasure to see you.
I am honoured by the very kind comments that so many colleagues have made today.
I would like to thank you for your remarks. It has always been a pleasure for me to be here in the House. I have been grateful for this opportunity since I was elected by the voters in Kingston and the Islands in 1988.
I have really enjoyed being their representative in this House. I am honoured to have been able to do it for so long and so consistently, in the sense that they kept re-electing me. I have appreciated that support immensely. I am very pleased and honoured to have been the member of Parliament for such a great constituency, which is obviously Canada's first capital. It has been a privilege to serve my community of Kingston. I must say that I look forward to spending a little more time there, if there is a dissolution shortly.
I would also like to express my profound thanks to the Clerk of the House, as well as her predecessor, Bill Corbett, and his staff.
The Speaker must work with the Clerk all the times to arrange things in the House and to receive notices regarding things that happen here. The Clerk also acts as the Speaker's advisor.
Throughout, the Clerk and her officials have been very, very supportive and very, very helpful. Obviously, if I have been getting some credit for some successful decisions in the House, a lot of the credit goes to the table officers who do the work in preparing these things. I do not claim to do all that research myself. It is great.
I also want to say how much I appreciate the support of my fellow Chair occupants.
As Deputy Speakers, I have worked with: Bob Kilger; the current Minister of Transport; and Bill Blaikie. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is the current Deputy Speaker. We have had a very interesting association among the whole group of us in a way.
The Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole: Réginald Bélair; the hon. members for Hull—Aylmer and Ottawa—Orléans; and, currently, the hon. member for Victoria. I have enjoyed working with all of them.
Finally, the Assistant Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole: Eleni Bakopanos; Betty Hinton; Jean Augustine; and, currently, the hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. I thank them all for their assistance. As a team, in each case, I think we have worked very well together.
I would like to also thank all of the dedicated staff in my Kingston office who have worked hard to keep the constituents of Kingston and the Islands happy.
Once I became Speaker, the number of days I could spend there during the week diminished somewhat, so I have not had as many appointments in the last 10 years as I did in the years before that, but they have seen a lot of constituents and dealt with a lot of the issues and helped out.
The staff in the office here in Ottawa have also been very helpful, particularly in the Speaker's office, in assisting me in this role in helping arrange all the trips and the visiting delegations and the meetings with officials that I get to do on behalf of the House. I appreciate their help very, very much.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for mentioning my old friend, Jerry Yanover. We were in high school together. I am sure he would have loved to be here today if he were still around.
I would like to thank my family, my five sisters, my brother, some of whom are here today, their spouses, their children, all of whom have helped me, and my mother. I am looking forward to again having a little more time to spend with them at the cottage when we get a break this summer. That will work out well.
I want to also thank all of you for having elected me so frequently as Speaker in this House. It has been a singular honour to serve in this position. I am always delighted with the support that I get during the elections, and of course elections are a real pain in the neck for Speakers, you have two every time. However, having been voted in, I do then have the pleasure of working with each one of the members.
It has always been a pleasure for me to have meetings and discussions with you and to receive little messages from time to time. I really appreciate the support you have given me and your good-naturedness. I also really appreciate the remarks you have made today.
Perhaps I could just end by telling a little story.
Toward the end of her long reign, Queen Elizabeth I, in an address to her subjects, said these words:
--though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves.
When you elected me to this job, you raised me high in this House, but what has been the wonderful part about it is the affection and the respect that you have showered upon me since my first election.
Thank you very much, my dear friends.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Speaker, before I table the documents with you which will be for the last time, I will make a few very brief remarks, if I may.
I do not profess to be as eloquent as those who spoke before me, but let me say, as one who has dealt with you on a daily basis on procedural matters for the last five years, I know this must be a joyous but also a very difficult day for you. “Mixed emotions” has once been described to me by definition as watching one's mother-in-law drive over a cliff but driving one's own brand new Cadillac. With all due respect to mothers-in-law across Canada, what it means is that you must be viewing this day with a mixture of joy and regret because this place has been such a big part of your life. From my perspective, I have benefited greatly from your rulings, your advice, your guidance and your patience. From the deepest part of my heart, thank you so much for all you have done for me over these past several years and I hope this is not the last time we see you in this place.
For the last time, let me say, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.
View Kevin Sorenson Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kevin Sorenson Profile
2011-03-25 12:43 [p.9269]
Mr. Speaker, I also want to pay my respect to you in your capacity as Speaker and wish you all the best in the future.
I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, in relation to its study on the issues surrounding security at the G8 and G20 summits.
View Hedy Fry Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Hedy Fry Profile
2011-03-25 12:43 [p.9269]
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 14th report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women concerning violence against aboriginal women.
This is an interim report.
Mr. Speaker, if I may be permitted to congratulate you on your sterling record and to say what a joy it was to know you as a colleague and a friend.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
CPC (ON)
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2011-03-25 12:45 [p.9270]
Mr. Speaker, before I table my report, I would like to use this occasion also to thank you for all the work you have done and the help you have provided. It was a great privilege to travel with you in May of last year. That is a trip that I am sure will be in my memories for the rest of my years and I appreciate that.
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development concerning Bill C-530, An Act to amend the Northwest Territories Act (borrowing limits). The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House without amendment.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in relation to its study on the effectiveness, management and operation of the expenses incurred for the G8 and G20 Summits.
Mr. Speaker, may I thank you as well for your guidance and insight over these many years. We will miss you.
View Joy Smith Profile
CPC (MB)
View Joy Smith Profile
2011-03-25 12:46 [p.9270]
Mr. Speaker, you are just awesome. It is wonderful to have known you and continue to know you. I think you will go down in history as one of the best Speakers that this Parliament ever had. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 16th report on the Standing Committee on Health in relation to the main estimates 2011-12, votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 under health.
View Joseph Volpe Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Joseph Volpe Profile
2011-03-25 12:47 [p.9270]
Mr. Speaker, I must first thank, on behalf of all of the committee members, the clerk and analysts who have worked so hard for the committee. I must also thank the members from all four parties for their work in committee, especially during the difficult moments over the past few days.
On their behalf I present, in both official languages, the following report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts: the 27th report on Chapter 3, "Service Delivery," of the Fall 2010 Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.
Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to reflect for but a very brief moment on your service to the House. You and I came here to the House together many years ago; some would say a lot. We faced the challenges of serving the public together in different capacities. On behalf of all of those people who demonstrated confidence in my ability to represent them, I know that they would want me to thank you for the enormous service that you have provided the Canadian public and this great institution, the House of Commons of Canada. Thank you very much.
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 Raynald Blais Profile
BQ (QC)
moves:
That this House issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated, and that the Speaker of the House send the representatives of the people whose properties were expropriated and of their descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured, and also very humbled, to rise today to speak about the people who were expropriated from Forillon. They were treated without justice, respect or dignity.
I would also like to point out that today marks a rather unusual anniversary. Another injustice occurred on February 10, 1956. On that date, Wilbert Coffin was hanged. Today, the members of his family are holding a very special ceremony in the Gaspé region.
Injustices have occurred, both in the case of Wilbert Coffin and in the case of the people expropriated from Forillon. Again this week, another case of injustice involving employment insurance was brought to the attention of my office. Recently, as we know, changes were introduced to reduce the number of hours of work required for employment insurance eligibility from 910 to 840 hours. That is 70 fewer hours, but this can still mean the difference for two particular young people. One is six hours short of being eligible. He has 834 hours of work to his credit instead of 840 hours, and according to the rules, is not eligible for employment insurance. This was the first time that he had ever applied for employment insurance. The situation was the same for the other young person who was short 20 hours of work. I can think of many unfair situations happening in the Gaspé region, the Magdalen Islands, elsewhere in Quebec and in the world.
Thus, fundamentally, when we talk about an injustice like the one the people expropriated from Forillon were victims of, we are talking about all injustices. When we fight one case of injustice, when we fight for respect and human dignity, we are fighting for all human beings who have faced similar situations in the past, are facing them now, or will in the future.
Getting back to the issue at hand, I would like to mention the co-operation and involvement of two individuals. The first is Lionel Bernier, who wrote a book in the early 2000s about the fight for Forillon. He served on a commemorative committee in 2010, which somewhat eased the pain of those who were expropriated. Another individual, Marie Rochefort, is still fighting today on behalf of a group of expropriated persons. These people, their committee and supporters are keen to meet with anyone interested in the plight of those expropriated from Forillon.
The story of Forillon is the story of the creation of a national park. I will give a bit of background information. The park was created in the late 1960s or early 1970s by Jean Chrétien, who at the time was the minister responsible for parks. At that time, a number of people—225 families to be exact—lived on the land that was slated to become Forillon Park. These families had cleared the land and built their homes there. Another 1,200 or so people had title to land in what was to become Forillon Park. There is the basic context.
This was not a park carved out of an uninhabited area. It was already home to a community. People were led to believe that the creation of a park would bring tremendous wealth to the Gaspé. There was talk at the time of 3,000 jobs, of many jobs down the road for a lot of people. There was also talk of major economic spinoffs. Sadly, however, the realization dawned in 2005 that Forillon Park had created the equivalent of 70 full-time jobs. A total of 70 people work at Forillon National Park which lies at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
So this is what happened. People had been living on their land for years. They thought they would continue to live their lives on this magnificent peninsula. Suddenly, they were swept away by a tsunami similar to the high tides we have seen strike elsewhere. The tsunami was supposed to bring with it development, growth and benefits, but the sad truth became apparent with the passage of time. These people were caught in the middle of a chain of events.
I represent the riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, but back then, there were other elected provincial and federal officials representing the same region. They were complicit in these events and in the sad story of these people.
When these people originally settled on this land, they were thinking about growth, the future and their families. Suddenly, the bulldozers arrived and their lands were expropriated to make way for a park, with the promise of tremendous growth in the Gaspé region. Moreover, they were paid very little for their land and properties.
Caught in the middle of these events, some people accepted their fate because they could see a glimmer of hope. They were told that they would have to leave their land, move into town or go somewhere else. But at the end of the day, they found themselves in a situation where they were offered very little for their land compared to going market rates.
Just think of it. When Forillon National Park was created, the 225 families who lived on this land were forced to find somewhere else to live. Those with very strong ties to this region wanted to stay in the Gaspé region, in the town of Gaspé in particular. However, property and home prices had risen because of the anticipated increase in development. These people had to find other pieces of property to purchase, and that with very little money. They had to spend substantial sums of money to purchase another piece of property and a home. Many of them had to go into debt.
Many could not accept this ridiculous state of affairs. They fought back. To use once again the analogy of a tsunami, they were engulfed by a giant wave. Those who were unable to accept the creation of Forillon National Park, with its promise of wealth and development, were forcibly expropriated.
How is a person supposed to react to a government official in a nice suit? We have talked a lot about white-collar crime these days, but other kinds of crime are committed as well. Back then, these people were caught in a no-win situation. Roughly 1,000 people in five municipalities were affected. We are talking about 214 residential properties, 355 buildings, 1,400 woodlots and 8 factories.
And what of the famous promises I alluded to earlier? I can give the House some idea of the exact numbers involved. The park was supposed to generate tens of millions of dollars in investments and create 3,000 jobs, including 700 permanent jobs. The creation of the park was also going to lead to an exponential increase in the number of visitors each year.
In 2005, the town council of Gaspé reported that the park employed 35 persons all year and 100 more during the summer, or the equivalent of 70 full-time jobs per year. At the time, 3,000 jobs were promised, but in reality, only 70 jobs were created.
I will not sing you a song about the fate of these people. There is, however, a song by Paul Piché, and another lesser known one, La chanson de Forillon, or Song of Forillon, with lyrics by Maurice Joncas, a Gaspesien, and music by Pierre Michaud. There are almost enough people here to sing it as a choir, but that is not what we are here for. I will read the lyrics to you:For generations, they lived on this landTo live or die was the law of the people of Forillon.Fishing boats in summer, axes and stoves in winter,Sharing happy times, that was more or less their world.But others came to survey, to measure and trample on the land. From Ottawa they sent bulldozers to clear it all away.Québec agreed and told the people to leave it all behind.Now bid goodbye to your land, your home, your family, your friends, your Gaspésie.Leave your homes for Montreal, Gaspé, Québec or someplace else.Even with your broken hearts, everything will work out fine.Go and die in the big city; it's not so hard to do.A tree uprooted always dies.Our land, our Gaspésie, will be transformed one day, Of that we can be sure.Strangers will come to Forillon and not remember The ones who cleared this land a hundred years ago.For generations, we lived on this land,To live and die, that was the law of the people of Forillon.Fishing boats in summer, axes and stoves in winter,We no longer share those happy times.Now everyone pays at the gate.
Those lyrics accurately reflect the spirit of the day. The last line says it all, “Now everyone pays at the gate”. There used to be a village, a church, a community and a cemetery. The descendants of those who lived in Forillon National Park had to pay an entrance fee just to be able to visit their family's roots and pay their respects. That is the sad reality. When we think about what happened to these people, we get the clear sense they were not shown an ounce of respect.
That is the battle we are fighting today, the battle for recognition of what happened. Another battle needs to be fought in Quebec City, but that will take place in another theatre, the National Assembly. Quebec was complicit in this situation, but we have work to do here in Ottawa.
That work has been done in certain circumstances, particularly the cases of Mirabel and the Indian residential schools. Now it is the turn of those who were expropriated to create Forillon National Park. Now, 40 years after the fact and many painful memories later, the people are asking for something. They have been given access passes for the three generations of descendants living in the area. This gives them free access to the park and means they do not have to pay at the gate to visit the park to pay their respects to their families or reconnect with their roots. But they want five generations to receive these access passes, not just three. That is one part of the issue.
In addition, these passes should not be limited to just the 225 families who owned homes or property located in the park. I mentioned woodlots and other properties. We are talking about roughly 1,500 people. Although it would not cost a lot to give them all passes, that small gesture certainly would mean a lot, and therefore not be so small, after all.
So I obviously urge parliamentarians of every stripe to stand united in the House of Commons on this motion. In fact, it is merely a first step. For Parliament to make a formal apology is one thing, but we also want the government to formally apologize to each and every person to whom this kind of thing has happened, is happening or will happen.
I met with these people, and I visited Dolbel-Roberts House in Forillon National Park. The museum tells some of their history. People have shared their stories on video, on tape and now on DVD. With heavy hearts, they describe what they went through and the tremendous pain of it all. And for that pain, we owe them our consideration today.
I want to commend my leader and my political party, the Bloc Québécois, for taking the time to look into this issue and allowing it to be our focus for an entire day. As I said before, by devoting a day to one particular injustice, we are actually tackling all injustices. And there are plenty to chose from. There is no shortage of injustice, we might say. This is an initiative the Bloc Québécois is proud of, but it is also taking a non-partisan approach. I hope it will be taken in that spirit. I am the first to speak, and others will follow, including members from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. I hope we will unanimously support this motion.
This motion is not intended to fix everything. Keep in mind the situation I described. Today, all these people who have come here would, on one hand, prefer not to remember what happened, to forget completely, because nothing in the world could possibly right the wrong done to them. But on the other hand, they have a little voice inside telling them this would nevertheless be helpful, just as it could be helpful to those who are and will be watching us today. They may appreciate the fact that we are telling them what happened, making them aware of the injustice that occurred, of the disrespectful and undignified manner in which some people were treated. It helps to hear what happened. In any case, it helps me to talk about it.
As a native of the Gaspé region, I know very well that we have endured all kinds of situations throughout our history, which continues to unfold. Given what we know about the creation of Forillon National Park, about those who were expropriated, about the sad anniversary of Wilbert Coffin's hanging and about all the other injustices, the very least we can do today is to recognize what happened. When you make a mistake this big, the least you can do is to consider apologizing.
The former member of Parliament for my riding made some mistakes, and I apologize for that to all those who were expropriated in connection with Forillon National Park. Had I been the member at the time, there is no doubt the situation would have been much different.
View Niki Ashton Profile
NDP (MB)
View Niki Ashton Profile
2011-02-10 11:33 [p.7998]
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House and express our party's support for the Bloc opposition day motion before us today.
The motion asks for the House to issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated. As well, it asks that the Speaker of the House send their representatives and descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.
Given the speeches here today, it is clear of what happened to the people who used to live where Forillon Park is today. They went through a very traumatic event. It was truly a tragedy. It is unconscionable that the people in the communities that were impacted were not consulted, their views were not heard and their wishes regarding their land were not respected, the land being one of the most fundamental connections to their roots. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we have seen time and time again in Canadian history, a history marred by forced relocations, a failure to consult and work with people and communities and to listen to what they have to say regarding how they want to live and contribute to their communities and to our country.
It is critical for me to support this motion, not just because of what the people in the region of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine have gone through, but also what it means in terms of setting a precedent for other peoples who have been forcibly relocated, as well as others whose voices have been silenced by the present government and preceding governments, such as Liberal governments of the past.
I have the honour of representing Churchill riding in northern Manitoba. Northern Manitoba has a very tragic history regarding the federal government's treatment of First Nations people. Unfortunately, there is also a history of forced relocations as well as relocations which, in many ways, while not said to be forced, if we look at the patterns that had taken place was in fact forced.
While some of that history has been recognized, there still remains a denial for other historical claims put forth by people who had been most adversely affected. One of those peoples are the Sayisi Dene who today live in Tadoule Lake, which is one of the most northern communities in the constituency I represent. It close to the border of north of 60.
Tadoule Lake is a Dene community and the people have shared their stories with Canada for some decades now. They spoke of a forced relocation from a nomadic lifestyle in northern Manitoba where they followed the caribou herds and lived and thrived off the land. Because of a decision made by officials of the Government of Canada, a decision that was approved by the political leaders of the day, the Dene people were forced into some of the most egregious living conditions in what is Churchill today. They were forced into a life of poverty and a life to which they were not accustomed. They had depended on the hunting and trapping seasons and being able to move and fend for themselves. Those patterns were crushed by the Government of Canada when it refused to listen to the cries for help from the Sayisi Dene people. Even when the lifestyle in which they were forced brought about alcoholism, drug addiction and the kinds of abuse that many Canadians cannot even imagine, they still were not heard. It took decades for them to fight for access to reserve land on which they could relocate to, which is now called Tadoule Lake.
The Sayisi Dene people of Tadoule Lake have said that they want true recognition from the Government of Canada when it comes to the tragedy that they faced. It was a tragedy in whose path they still live with some of the highest suicide rates and addiction rates and a real sense of trauma exacerbated by the fact that the Government of Canada is continuing to fail to recognize their wishes, which is not just an apology but also compensation for what they have lost.
When we look at monetary figures, it is impossible to put down in numbers the cost of the lives that have been lost, the cost of the futures that have been lost and the continued impact on future generations. However, the Sayisi Dene people have said that this relocation needs to be recognized, and not just in terms of monetary compensation, but a commitment to healing on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Still, in the year 2011, they have been denied that wish. There have been movements on the part of the government that have been seen as very positive from the community but the continued failure to deal with the relocation and bring closure to the community's wishes is something we are still waiting for.
We do not need to keep living with this kind of history. We need to respect the wishes of the people who have gone through this trauma. It is not the government, it is the people on the ground, the communities that make up our country. That is why we should be looking at today's motion and supporting it unanimously. We should be listening to the wishes of the people whose history and wishes has been ignored.
I find it interesting that the motion asks for something as fundamental as an apology from the House. It certainly speaks to a recognition that we all ought to have regarding this issue. It is also very much in line with Canada's increased consideration of the method of apologizing as a way of moving forward.
One of the moments I will never forget in my life was the historic apology made toward residential school survivors by the Government of Canada and supported by the House. It was an honour to share in that moment with so many survivors in my home community of Thompson, Manitoba. It was powerful to hear the government, the House of Commons, apologize to people whose lives were so negatively impacted and whose lives were destroyed during of a shameful part of our history.
However, in that moment of apology, people saw hope that would allow them to move forward, to heal and to work with communities and say, “They have heard us and they know what this has meant to us. Now we can begin to move forward”.
In light of that apology, there was also hope that we would not stop there, that we would continue in the spirit of that apology and move forward with tangible pieces that would contribute to the well-being of survivors and their communities. I believe that a critical consideration for us as members of Parliament and representatives of the Canadian people is to hear those voices.
In the context of our debate here today, we in the NDP hope that the wishes of the people of the Gaspé region, with which many of us across Canada re familiar , will be heard, and not just today in this House but that moving forward, they, their families and the people who will come later will know that we care and that we are sorry for what was done to them.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Speaker, before I proceed with routine proceedings, let me just say on my part and that of all members of the government, congratulations to you on your recent 10-year anniversary of being Speaker of this House.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: It is well deserved, sir.
The following questions will be answered today: Nos. 545, 547, 550, 553, 558, 562, 563, 565, 574, 575, 580, 582, 585, 590, 592, 594, 601, 609, 618, 619, 625, 629, 630, 633, 636, 641, 646, 647, 648, 649, 651, 654, 656, 658, 675, 684, 685, 686, 687, 688, 689, 690, 691, 694, 695, 697, 700, 701, 702, 703, 705, 706, 708, 709, 710, 711, 712, 715, 716, 717, 718, 719, 720, 721, 722, 723, 724, 726, 727, 728, 729, 730, 731, 732, 733, 734, 735, 736, 737, 738, 739, 742, 745, 748, 770, 771, 772, 773, 777, 778, 779, 780, 782, 783, 784, 786, 787, 789, 790, 791, and finally Question No. 806.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
The minister is an experienced member. He knows that speakers cannot answer questions.
The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
View Greg Kerr Profile
CPC (NS)
View Greg Kerr Profile
2010-11-03 14:07 [p.5748]
Mr. Speaker, every year on the first Wednesday in November, thousands of grade nine students participate in The Learning Partnership's take our kids to work program. Now in its 16th year, this program sees students take part in a daylong job shadowing experience at businesses and organizations across Canada.
This year, The Learning Partnership, in conjunction with the Scotiabank group, ran the second annual ultimate dream job contest to coincide with the take our kids to work program. This national online photo contest gave students the chance to prepare for the future by exploring their career opportunities.
This year's grand prize winner is Melanie Renn from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, who was chosen by over 10,000 voters. Melanie's dream job is to become an archaeologist. Her thirst for knowledge and fascination with solving puzzles gave her entry the winning edge. As part of her grand prize, Melanie is in Ottawa today to meet with the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House.
I congratulate Melanie and hope she enjoys her day.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 228 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.
The Speaker: Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
View Michael Chong Profile
CPC (ON)
moved:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing Oral Questions, and to consider, among other things, (i) elevating decorum and fortifying the use of discipline by the Speaker, to strengthen the dignity and authority of the House, (ii) lengthening the amount of time given for each question and each answer, (iii) examining the convention that the Minister questioned need not respond, (iv) allocating half the questions each day for Members, whose names and order of recognition would be randomly selected, (v) dedicating Wednesday exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister, (vi) dedicating Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for questions to Ministers other than the Prime Minister in a way that would require Ministers be present two of the four days to answer questions concerning their portfolio, based on a published schedule that would rotate and that would ensure an equitable distribution of Ministers across the four days; and that the Committee report its findings to the House, with proposed changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions, within six months of the adoption of this order.
He said: Mr. Speaker, Canadians know that something is not quite right with their democratic institutions. They know that something is not the way it should be. They may not know exactly what processes, procedures and rules need to be changed but they know their institutions need to be fixed and they want them to be reformed.
We need to respond to these concerns and we need to reform Parliament. Parliamentary reform begins with the reform of question period. If the heart of our democracy is Parliament, then the heart of Parliament is question period, the 45 minute period each day where members of Parliament ask questions of the government in order to hold it to account. Question period is televised and each day its proceedings are relayed by the national media to millions of Canadians, the people who we represent here in this place.
If one thing has been made abundantly clear to me as a member of Parliament for the last number of years and to all of us in this House, it is that ordinary Canadians are disappointed with the level of behaviour in question period and they want their parliamentarians to focus on the issues that really matter to them.
Since this motion was made public just over a month ago, I have received phone calls, letters and emails from citizens across this country. From Kingston, a proud member of the Canadian military wrote me:
I have served in the Canadian Forces for over 24 years and the lack of civility in the House of Commons has been an occasional topic of conversation throughout the years. I've often thought it extremely ironic that my elected political leaders could sometimes be so immature and exhibit such appalling behaviour when my fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen are required to uphold such high standards of deportment both in and out of uniform.
This concern has also been voiced to me by school teachers, truck drivers, grade five students and boardroom executives. In fact, teachers have told me that the level of behaviour in question period is such that they will not take their classes here anymore. This is the surest sign that question period needs to be reformed.
When more than four out of ten Canadians in the last election refused to vote, it is a sign that our Parliament is losing its legitimacy and its authority.
More than four out of ten Canadians refused to vote in the last election. This is a sign that our Parliament needs to be reformed.
Question period has become more about scoring cheap political points rather than about the issues that really matter to Canadians.
Question period has become more about scoring cheap political points rather than dealing with the issues that really matter to Canadians.
Question period has become a time where behaviour that is not permitted in any boardroom, dining room, or classroom regularly occurs here in the people's room. As a result, there is a growing divide between Canadians who are becoming more and more apolitical and a Parliament that is becoming more and more partisan.
We, as members of Parliament, need to bridge that gap by reforming Parliament and regaining the respect of Canadians. That is why today I move Motion No. 517, a proposal to reform question period. It contains six specific proposals to address question period and make it focus on the issues that really matter to Canadians.
The six specific proposals call on the House affairs and procedures committee to elevate decorum and fortify the use of discipline by the Speaker; lengthen the amount of time given for each question and answer; require that ministers respond to questions directed at them; allocate half the questions each day for backbench members; dedicate Wednesday exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister; and dedicate the rest of the week to questions for ministers other than the Prime Minister.
I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on each of the six proposals.
First, the motion calls for the elevation of decorum and the strengthening of the authority of the Speaker.
From teachers with students on class trips to boardroom executives, Canadians want behaviour in question period improved. The current behaviour is unacceptable in any social setting, let alone this country's Parliament. Pleas for better decorum are insufficient. We, as members of Parliament, need to give a mandate to the Speaker of this House to enforce the rules already in the Standing Orders and in current convention.
The second proposal is to lengthen the time given to ask a question and the time given to answer a question. Currently, 35 seconds are allocated to the questioner and 35 seconds to the answerer. It is an insufficient amount of time. As a result, we get rhetorical questions and rhetorical answers.
The lengthening of time given to ask and to answer a question is something that was done here at one point in time. The short 35-second rule is a recent introduction to this Parliament. For decades, parliamentarians had a minute to a minute and a half to ask a question, and ministers had a minute to a minute and a half to respond to questions.
Lengthening the amount of time given to ask and to answer questions will lead to more substantive questions and more substantive answers.
Writing in the National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin opined that:
the current 35-second format may produce tailor-made soundbites for the evening news, but hardly allows for depth or reflection.
She added that the motion:
is supported by research done on Western European Parliaments where it was found that extending the question and answer time made for more substantive exchanges.
The third proposal contained in the motion calls on the committee to re-examine the convention that a minister need not respond to the questioner. Sometimes I understand it is not possible for a minister to respond, as they are out of the country in carrying out their duties representing Canada abroad. Other times the problem is that the 35-second rule results in questions that are rhetorical and answers that become rhetorical, and the government, for good reasons, chooses to designate a particular minister to respond to those rhetorical questions.
Thus, if we are going to overhaul question period, if we are going to have more substantive questions and more substantive answers, then we should also examine the convention that a minister need not respond.
Fourth, I am proposing in the motion to allocate half the questions per day to backbench members of Parliament. Currently, in question period, members of Parliament may only ask questions in the House if they receive the prior approval of their House leader and party whips. This, in my view, is a denial of the right of the backbench members of Parliament to represent their constituents and to ask questions of the government in relation to their constituencies.
The introduction of the approval of the House leader and the whip for a member to ask a question in question period in all parties is a recent practice. It is not something that was present here before the 1990s. In fact, I was speaking with a former parliamentarian who sat in this House for over 20 years in the 1970s and 1980s. He told me that he was shocked to find out that the Speaker no longer recognized members in the House spontaneously during question period. In fact, he told me that up until his time in Parliament, the first two or three rounds in question period went to the leaders and their designates. After that, it was backbench members of Parliament who could catch the eye of the Speaker and rise and ask questions that were of concern to their constituents. We need to go back to some sort of system like that in order to strengthen the role of this legislature.
Speaking on The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on our nation's public broadcaster, former New Democrat leader and respected parliamentarian Ed Broadbent said, “We still have to make changes to magnify the role of individual MPs”. He added, “It is up to individual MPs to assert themselves and to assert their democratic rights”.
The final two proposals contained in my motion would dedicate specific days for the Prime Minister and other ministers of the Crown to attend question period. Presently, preparing for question period requires almost four hours a day per minister. There are roughly 40 ministers of the Crown in the government. Each minister spends four hours a day either in question period or preparing for it. That is not unlike what has happened in previous governments as well.
In a typical question period, only about five or six, maybe eight or nine, of those ministers actually answer questions. In other words, 30 ministers of the various ministries each spend four hours a day preparing for and sitting through question period and yet contribute nothing or provide no answers. As a result, a lot of time and resources are used unproductively.
I am suggesting that we keep the amount of time dedicated in the House for question period the same, but am arguing for a rotational schedule that would better allow the government to use its resources and time wisely, and also allow the opposition to focus on specific issues on specific days.
This motion, if adopted, would instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to consider these reforms and report back the recommended changes within six months.
I was never a member of the Reform Party or a Reformer, but this motion was inspired in part by Preston Manning and the democratic Reform movement and their earnest desire to see change for the better in Canada's institutions. Mr. Manning, writing in the Globe and Mail recently, said:
Although Motion 517 has been moved by a government member, it is not partisan in nature and deserves support from all members who want to see Question Period made more credible.
He added:
There must be some way of making Question Period more civil, productive and newsworthy, and the sooner we find it, the better it will be for Canadian democracy.
Also writing in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson noted that this motion:
would reform Question Period, bringing greater civility to that raucous session and encouraging more sensible questions and more forthright answers.
All parties should embrace the proposal. It would be another step along the road to truly responsible, truly parliamentary, government.
What I am offering here are some viable and specific suggestions on how to improve and reform question period. They are simple and reasonable. However, at its heart, this motion is about starting the debate on how to improve Parliament.
But this motion is a call for debate. If this motion is adopted, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will be forced to begin a review and engage in debate on the validity of these suggestions.
If this motion is adopted and the committee is ordered to consider these changes, the committee may, in its best judgment, decide to include additional suggestions for reform or, indeed, modify some of the proposals that I have suggested in the motion. I therefore hope that members will accept and support this call to start the debate on the reform of question period and of Parliament in general.
The committee may, in its best judgment, decide to include additional suggestions for reform or even modify some of my suggestions.
I therefore hope that members will accept and support this call to start the debate on the reform of question period.
Colleagues of mine on both sides of the House have been enthusiastic about the motion. Twenty members have seconded the motion, and I want to thank them for their support, their encouragement and their input into the motion.
Canadians are hungry for change and reform, and I am optimistic that parliamentary reform can reconnect Canadians who feel disengaged from their witnessing behaviour in question period that would not be tolerated around the kitchen table. I am optimistic that we can reform Parliament and make it relevant to them once again.
The motion provides for some specific and viable suggestions for reform. The motion is simple and reasonable. If we cannot collectively, as members of the House, come together to achieve something as simple and reasonable and demanded by Canadians as the reform of question period, then what hope do we have of restoring Canadians' trust in their institutions and regaining their respect? What hope do we have of recapturing the legitimacy and authority of this place as central to the Canadian debate? What hope do we have to meet the challenges of our era and continue the nation-building efforts begun by our forebears?
More than four out of ten Canadians refused to vote in the last election. In doing so, they decreased the legitimacy of this institution and the authority of Parliament. As I mentioned before, Canadians may not know exactly what processes, procedures or rules need to be fixed, but they know something is wrong and they know something needs to change.
I have already mentioned the outpouring of support from Canadians who have taken it upon themselves to contact me regarding the motion, many of whom have confirmed this growing gap between their democratic institutions and themselves. A Canadian in Edmonton wrote to me and said, “Wouldn't it be great if something like this could be done? I am one of the countless Canadians who finds the whole spectacle of question period as it stands embarrassing and utterly alienating. Question period is probably more responsible for the low voter turnout than any other single thing. It would sure be nice to look in on parliament and see the MPs at least appearing to be working in a constructive way for us all”.
An editorial in the Peace Arch News from White Rock, British Columbia makes the following comment:
A proposal by a backbench Conservative MP in Ottawa is one the general public—and MPs of all parties—should embrace.
It goes on to state:
The main point of government should be to get things done, and any reform of Question Period that would make it more than just a theatrical performance would be a big step forward.
Canadians want their Parliament reformed. They want their democratic institutions fixed and they want the level of debate elevated. This motion is a first, but important, step toward that parliamentary reform.
I want to end on a final note about the great parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, who once observed:
All government—indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, every prudent act—is founded on compromise and barter.
I am prepared to embrace the spirit of Mr. Burke's observation. I am open to friendly amendments that support the spirit of this motion in order to build a consensus, so I urge my fellow members to support this motion.
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