Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take the floor today. I want to congratulate the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly on his very fine speech. His bilingualism is second to none. There is no question that he honours the forefathers of the two founding peoples of Canada.
My colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan has quite clearly explained the matter that I am addressing today. He has provided a good history of the last three weeks, laying out each successive question of privilege. I do not intend to repeat that exercise. Although I plan to speak to the importance of a question of privilege in my introduction, my main intention is to analyze the discussion paper on House reforms, while remaining grounded in the subject at hand.
For three weeks I have been awaiting the opportunity to address my colleagues in the House on the debate before us, whether on the issue of privilege or the reforms debated in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Although some members are trying to differentiate the debates and separate their elements, they constitute a whole. Whether we are dealing with the question of privilege or the Liberal government's proposed reforms, which are meant to modernise Parliament, the issue remains the same, namely the inalienable rights of parliamentarians, and indirectly, every Canadian’s right to representation.
Over the last three weeks, I have tried to speak before the committee by getting my name on the list. I did not succeed. I also tried to speak in the House last Friday. I was here to take part in the debate, like my colleagues on the other side. I am happy to be able to speak at last, and perhaps bring a French Canadian perspective to this debate.
Many of my colleagues on this side of the House have tried to demonstrate that questions of privilege are of critical importance to members of the House of Commons as well as to the members of Westminster-style parliaments worldwide.
Questions of privilege have been centuries in the making. I think it was my hon. colleague from Yorkton—Melville who aptly explained how, centuries ago in England, kings attempted certain manoeuvres to prevent the lords or members of the bourgeoisie, who were elected members or senators at the time, lords of the upper chamber, from entering the House to vote in due course on a given bill.
Over the centuries, the respective English chambers acquired certain means of protection, the most important of which pertained to the issue of privilege which we are debating today.
The foremost purpose of the question of privilege is to ensure that access to this democratic precinct is never impaired by any particular situation, the behaviour of an individual, or laws or changes to House procedures and affairs. It is no small matter to say that the question of privilege took centuries to adequately protect.
Two weeks ago, two of my Conservative colleagues were unable to vote because they were delayed by a bus which had itself been delayed by the vehicles transporting our right honourable Prime Minister. The privilege of these two members here today to represent and speak on behalf of their constituents has, in effect, been breached, as has the privilege of all members. Every member of Parliament represents approximately 100,000 citizens.
This is a very serious issue for all members of the House, simply because of what could happen. Let us turn the tables. Imagine that this was a confidence vote and that some 30 or 40 Liberal members were unable to reach the House. The government could fall and an election could be called.
That is why we must ensure that access to the House is never restricted in any way. That is extremely important. That is why we should not hesitate to debate this for as long as we must. The breach of a parliamentary privilege could have disastrous consequences. This is a very serious matter.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, directly or indirectly, willingly or not, is trying to manage this debate on the question of privilege. Last Friday, I was here when he tried to manage the debate and call into question the pertinence of debating a question of privilege in the House. He also tried to do something like that today, in my humble analysis of the situation, context, and dynamics in the House. We can see that this is a habit of our Liberal government colleagues and the parliamentary secretary. It is the Liberal habit of wanting to manage, control, dominate, and supervise the elected members of this very honourable democratic chamber.
It would be useful to read the definition of the word “manage”. To manage means to administer. To administer what? According to the dictionary I am reading from, to manage means to administer the interests and affairs of another.
Only I can manage my interests in the House. I read the definition of the word “manage” so that we can refer to it when we read the discussion paper presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons entitled Modernization of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. I invite you to go to page 2, where it states:
Therefore, the themes of the proposed reforms are three-fold in addressing the aforementioned issues. They include: (1) the management of the House and its sittings; (2) management of debate; and (3) management of committees.
Management is the act of managing. I can hardly believe that none of the professionals in the government ever told the House leader not to put those words in the paper. Those words, along with several other words, do not belong there. I will talk about that later.
It is not up to the government to manage the House. The government manages affairs of state. It manages Canada. Fine. The government's job is to manage the interests of Canadians, not the House of Commons. Nevertheless, that is what it says here in the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons's paper on reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
The Canadian Constitution is my bible; I refer to it constantly, though I like the Bible too. If we look at the part about legislative powers, it talks about privileges. The word “privileges” is in the Canadian Constitution, right there in the British North America Act of 1867, but there is no mention of the word “manage” in the part about the House of Commons.
Of course, the Fathers of Confederation never planned, anticipated, or intended for the government or members to manage the House. On the contrary, emphasis is put on the question of privilege.
Let us look at what is happening with the government's proposed changes, which are in fact at the heart of the current debate, although we are now debating the subamendment to the question of privilege relating to issue of privilege. As I said, I will not get into the entire back story, as my colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan explained it all so very well.
In fact, the debate is on the opposition members' current frustration with a disingenuous attempt by the Liberal government and especially the Prime Minister to substantially and significantly reduce the right to speak, the right to vote, and the right of all hon. members to act as they see fit in the House. It is hard to see what the government hopes to achieve exactly. I do not wish to impugn their motives. I will leave it to everyone to come up with their own interpretation. However, one thing is clear, the government's discursive arguments are deeply flawed.
Many things bother me about the discussion paper on reforming the Standing Orders. On page one, we read that Parliament “should respond to demands of greater accountability, transparency and relevance.” The Fathers of Confederation, constitutional conventions, and parliamentary conventions have never been concerned with relevance. The only thing that is very much relevant to all members and all Canadians is the election that is now held every four years under the new law. The only thing that is very much relevant is the result of the election which then translates into the division of political powers in the House of Commons. The only matter of relevance in the House is the representation of citizens and the representation of the different interests and different political forces in Canadian society.
In the second paragraph, we read that the impetus of the reforms is “to balance the desire of the minority's right to be heard with the majority's duty to pass its legislative agenda.” That is incredible. For a political minority to be heard is more than just a desire; it is a right. I was shocked to read such a thing in a text produced by the Canadian government. Is this an essay by a student at Cégep or is it a government document? It is really hard to tell.
In the third paragraph, we read that debates need to be more effective so that they are reasonable in length. Good heavens. Today I will be speaking for 20 minutes, although most of the time, I have only 10 minutes to speak. That is already unreasonable, because that is not a long time.
In my office I have a book called Canada's Founding Debates. Our predecessors in the House used to speak for two, three, four, or five hours. They would talk all night. Now we speak for 10 or 20 minutes, and we are being told that it is unreasonable. I was shocked to read those things in a government document.
The document also indicates that it is time “to re-evaluate the role of members and examine ways to increase their influence in the legislative process.” It is not easy to move forward with these kinds of reforms. In that regard, I have two very simple solutions I would like propose to the government, and I say this in all seriousness.
I have two very simple solutions to propose to the government, and I am confident that they will have the support of the House. I, for one, would champion this my entire life. If the Liberals really want to return true legislative authority to all members of the House of Commons, two things need to happen. First of all, the Prime Minister's Office needs to go. It has only been around since the 1970s anyway. Before that time, many prime ministers were both prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. They were able to pull that off without the benefit of the PMO's 700 employees. I know what I am talking about, because I myself was an intern at the PMO, which has about 200 political staffers and 500 public servants.
Then, we need to put an end to party discipline. It does not exist in England, and that is the real Westminster parliamentary system. The concept of a majority and minority is actually an illusion. In a real Westminster parliamentary system where there is a majority and a minority, the majority is constantly changing, at every moment and for every vote. That is how it is in England.
A real prime minister, in the British parliamentary system, must have the pride, conviction, and strength to convince all members of the House of Commons to take his side. In England, David Cameron has lost I do not know how many votes. Sometimes 80 of his Conservative colleagues do not vote the same way he does, but he wins the vote anyway because some democratic liberals and members of the workers' party vote with him. That is the strength of a real parliamentary majority. It is always changing.
To give power back to members, all we need to do is close the Prime Minister's Office and put and end to party discipline. If he were to do so, the Prime Minister would be acting with incredible audacity and remembered for thousands of years to come.
On page 4, the government says that the reforms will provide a greater degree of flexibility, which will “calm the acrimonious proceedings leading up to the summer and winter adjournments.”
Once again, when a person knows how liberal constitutionalism works in a Westminster parliamentary system, acrimony is welcome. Our founding fathers wanted political acrimony. The United States uses a system of checks and balances because they have a strict, airtight division of power. Here the division of power is not strict or airtight. You know that better than I do, Mr. Speaker, since you have served in this great chamber for many years.
Acrimony provides checks and balances in the House. What is more, works written by political scientists Baker, Morton, and Knopff, from the University of Calgary, and Manfredi, from McGill University in Montreal, teach us that there is acrimony among the three powers, or in other words the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. That acrimony is what allows us to come up with the best solutions for Canadians following a strong and vigorous debate.
I want to emphasize that the government's reforms, which are at the root of the question of privilege we are talking about today, and which are the subject of two more questions of privilege, would take away our rights as opposition MPs. If the Liberals really want to give members more legislative power, all they have to do is get rid of the PMO, which would be great, and put an end to party discipline.