Debates of March 4th, 1996
House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was opposition.
- Government Business
- Aquaculture Industry
- Mining Industry
- Human Rights
- Employment Insurance
- Gateway North Marketing Agency
- Highway 50
- Economic Recovery
- Status Of Women
- International Women's Week
- Middle East Peace Process
- Manitoba Medical Association
- Impaired Driving
- Crime Prevention
- Status Of Women
- Unemployment Insurance Reform
- The Economy
- Goods And Services Tax
- Quebec Citadel
- Agri-Food Sector
- Government Advertising
- Health Care
- Union Station
- Presence In Gallery
- Electoral Boundaries Commissions
- Indian Affairs
- Federal Elections, Fees, Tariff
- Government Response To Petitions
- The Middle East
- Standards Council Of Canada Act
- Bankruptcy And Insolvency Act
- Yukon Quartz Mining Act
- Constitution Act, 1996
- Program Cost Declaration Act
- Taxpayers Bill Of Rights
- Broadcasting Act
- Criminal Code
- Canada Labour Code
- Energy Price Commission
- Competition Act
- Committees Of The House
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Business Of The House
Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB
What will it do to the province of Alberta that does not have a provincial sales tax? Are we going to make that government collect 15 per cent of taxes, then rebate people? The government does not brag about things like that. That is very smart politics. The Liberals know how to pull the wool over people's eyes, to distort the truth just a little by talking about what they are doing and how they are doing it. If they say it often enough then people might just believe it.
Do the Liberals brag about all the broken promises they have made but have not kept? There must be a lot of people that voted Liberal who are very disappointed in the government's efforts. In fact, I happen to know of a lot of backbenchers that are unhappy with the government's efforts. I know why they are unhappy. They are unhappy about that GST and the promise of replacing or eliminating it. The red book says replace.
The newspapers have been quite clear that when the Liberals campaigned door to door-I cannot name the members because I do not know their ridings-many of the members around Toronto said, "We will get rid of the GST. We hate the GST. This is an awful tax. It is not going to be there. You vote for us and it is gone. The GST is gone".
The red book says replace which I understand. I understand the Prime Minister saying: "I hate it. I would kill it. We will get rid of it. Now I have to find something to replace it with". I know he did say that. He said that in some speeches. I heard him say that in Calgary when I went to listen to him speak.
However, I hear that a lot of the backbenchers around Toronto did not say that. They went door to door and said: "Vote for me, we'll get rid of the GST". They did not say that would replace it with something revenue neutral. They did not get that elaborate. A lot of the backbenchers are worried about the next election. They are saying that unless the government gets rid of the GST, harmonizes it, hides it or something, and tries to keep this promise, their chances of getting re-elected are nil. It is about integrity. It is about keeping one's word. It is about making a promise and keeping that promise. The government is slowly eroding the foundations of the word called integrity. A national sales tax will be the son of the GST. However, once again it is smart politics but it is not good government.
One of the biggest promises made by the Prime Minister during his campaign was made September 10, 1993, about a month and a half before the vote. He said there would not be a promise that he would make in the campaign that he would not keep. Fair enough.
Five days later he said something to the effect that anyone could go before him at any time with that red book, wave it in his face and say, where are you with your promises? By the points that I made, where is the Prime Minister with his promises?
He broke the promise on NAFTA. He broke the promise on protecting the civil service. He broke the promise on big spending cuts. He broke the promise on the GST or he has not kept it yet, although he still has time. He can still get rid of it. We will wait for him. Mr. Prime Minister, where are you with your promises? Mr. Prime Minister, why are you acting like your predecessor, but even worse? How can you sit on that side of the House?
Reformers could never do that. Once we become the government, we are going to keep our promises. We are going to run this government the way we said we would. We kept our promises. We have kept everything up front, above board and we plan to do that all the way through. The government said one thing to get elected and now its members act like the previous government did in power.
That is a great and huge disservice to the Canadian voting public. That is not the way to retain one's integrity. I do not understand how the Prime Minister can get away with saying one thing in opposition and doing another in government. Now in government the Liberals say they will do something, then not do it or do the opposite.
The Prime Minister is sending out such confusing and convoluted messages whether he says it in French or in English. No matter who is listening, it is confusing, convoluted and complicated. Why can we not get a clear direction from the government? We ask questions in question period. Are we going to have a national referendum on the issue of national unity? Should Quebecers decide for themselves whether or not they should be voting on that issue or should all Canadians have a say?
Anybody can petition for divorce but both parties have to agree to the terms. Maybe that is where some of the separatist members of the Bloc Quebecois can see the government's side. When one gets to the terms of the settlement, perhaps it does take two sides to negotiate and to decide what the consequences of that break-up would be.
This is where the Bloc members could take a look at that new cabinet minister who is not a member yet. He is suggesting that both parties look at it.
Why will the Prime Minister not run Parliament like he promised when he was in opposition? Why will the Prime Minister not live up to the standard that the Canadian public expected of him? He is a very popular individual. He has a personality that is liked by all walks of life. He is an individual who has spent 30 years of his life serving the public.
At the end of those 30 years, is it not worthwhile to be able to say that he kept his word, his promises? Is it not better at the end of 30 years to be able to say that he meant what he said, that he said what he meant and did it instead of caging this all in flowery rhetoric, confusing everybody, hiring spin doctors to give the right image and playing politics all the way through?
I am embarrassed for the government. I am embarrassed that it is doing a worse job than the Conservative Party ever did in terms of the rules of the House and how it is trying to force its legislation through with the use of closure, time allocation and with motions that make it appear to be a government that is not interested in following the democratic process.
The Deputy Speaker
Colleagues, we do not have 10 minutes of questions and comments now since the vote. We will therefore go directly to the hon. member for Mercier.
Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC
Mr. Speaker, I strongly object to the motion before us. First of all, for the people watching or listening to us, I should explain what this motion means. It would allow a minister, during the first 30 sitting days of this session, to restore a bill to the same legislative stage it had reached at the time of prorogation simply by making a statement at the first reading stage of the bill. This bill must be exactly in the same form as it was during the last session.
For someone who is not familiar with House proceedings, this may sound like normal procedure but we cannot find any precedents for such a motion. Since 1938, there has been only one example of such a motion: in 1991, the Tory government tabled a motion for debate on March 28 and then imposed closure on May 29.
Before 1991, parliamentary tradition dictated that such a motion be agreed to with the unanimous consent of the House. The Liberals, who were then in opposition, strongly denounced that motion as irregular and undemocratic.
According to parliamentary tradition, when the government puts an end to a session, it usually means that it has achieved its goals. If some bills die on the Order Paper, the government has only itself to blame. A new session means that it must submit new bills to the House of Commons to be examined right from the start.
We are asking government members to object to it if they want to be consistent with what they said in 1991, when they denounced this process in very strong terms.
If they ever decided to vote in favour of this motion, we would end up with bills such as the one on employment insurance-whose number I cannot recall-which would have come before the House only at the report and third reading stages. They are bypassing all the usual legislative stages, as I recall that the employment insurance bill did not go through second reading in the usual way. The government used a parliamentary tactic that also bypassed the usual procedure.
At second reading, all members were not allowed to express their views as they should on such an important bill; instead, we in the opposition had to make do with six times ten minutes. This is absolutely disgraceful, especially considering the absolutely ridiculous amount of time we were given to inform the public about the details of former Bill C-111-whose new number we are not about find out, I hope-because that is what serving in Parliament is about.
What is the use of readings, of broadcasting readings, if not to inform the public? The public has not received all the information it should have been provided with regarding this bill on employment insurance.
The government interfered with the normal second reading process. When people protested vehemently, supported by their bishops in the Gaspé Peninsula and by their Churches in other parts of Canada, instead of abiding by parliamentary procedure and withdrawing the bill, or letting it die on the Order Paper and introducing a revised bill, as requested by any and every one who cares about the ordinary people of Canada, this government impertinently seeks to bring the bill back before the House, during the second session of this Parliament, while skipping all other stages.
This is my first experience as a member of Parliament, and I thought that the House of Commons of Canada provided a certain decorum, certain democratic guarantees and a forum where the people could inform themselves and their representatives, in the opposition that is, could raise in public-and be given the time they need to make their point-the serious problems posed by various bills.
I am forced to realize that this is a far cry from how I thought the British parliamentary system was used in Canada. This government motion goes farther than anything before. This government motion is, to put it bluntly, antidemocratic. It is unusual and, as such, problematic.
That is why, as energetically as we can, we urge the government not to proceed according to this motion, but rather according to the parliamentary spirit, which provides that, within the course of any given session, a certain procedure shall be followed after a bill has been read for the first time, that allows the opposition to play its role.
Let us not forget that, unless the opposition is free and able to express its views, there can be no democratic process. The role of the opposition is a fundamental one, and a crucial one as well. And when we find ourselves in a situation like this, with a bill as fundamentally important to ordinary people as the employment insurance bill, that will go to committee without having undergone proper consideration at second reading and come back before this House only for committee report and third reading, we are dealing with highly unusual procedures, which are totally unacceptable. Ordinary citizens are not properly served, or else this is a drastic and serious change in parliamentary proceedure in the House of Commons.
Numerous rallies were held in various Canadian provinces, including Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, by people who are disgusted with the major changes included in a bill that was supposed to have died on the Order Paper, but that will now be referred to committee if the government passes its legislation.
People are concerned; they do not know what to do. Unemployment insurance is the only security for millions of Canadians and Quebecers. There are some who do not understand that, because they have financial security; they have money and a steady job. But for all the others, unemployment insurance is the only security they have. And I could add that it takes them a long time to get that security, often a full six weeks. However, few people can save enough to survive six weeks with no income, but it is possible to somehow manage, if one knows that one will at least get a minimum income.
Everyone is urging the minister to withdraw this bill and conduct an in-depth review of its provisions, because it changes everything. It creates conditions whereby, for example, young people, newcomers to the labour market will have to work six months before being eligible for UI benefits, at a rate of 35 hours of work per week.
Everyone knows that these conditions are hard to meet for a woman who re-enters the labour force, for a new immigrant, for someone who has been sick for more than two years or who left the labour force, or for a young person entering the labour market. It is difficult to keep a first employment. Some do find a stable first job that pays well, but this is uncommon. In real life, this is a rare occurrence indeed.
What does that bill imply? It means that, from now on, in spite of having worked at one, two or three jobs, many people who have not managed to get six months of employment at an average of 35 hours per week will have to rely on their friends and family, or go on welfare. This is what it means. It means that, instead of entering the labour market and, given existing conditions, being able to count on some help to tide them over between jobs, people entering the workforce will immediately get the feeling that they are being ejected from it.
This bill contains some discriminatory measures. It also completely changes the old rules.
Unfortunately, we will have the opportunity to speak of it a great deal, and I am obliged to tell you that we in the Opposition want the government to listen to the Canadian coalition and to withdraw
this bill, or rather just leave it where it is. It does not need to be withdrawn because it is supposed to have died on the Order Paper. We do not want the government to resuscitate it in its current state, for it is a bill which bodes nothing but despair.
The government may well say: "But the demonstrations involved only a few thousand people here, a few thousand people there, another hundred somewhere else." But it cannot claim that this bill has not brought out crowds in opposition. Does the government not make any move unless it is facing a large enough crowd? Has it not itself studied the economic impact of the bill?
This bill, which died on the Order Paper and deserves to be allowed to rest in peace, was adding $640 million annually in unemployment insurance cuts for Quebec alone to the $735 million cut annually by the Liberals since 1994. In 1995-96 and 1996-97, there will be $735 million less for unemployment insurance benefits. If this bill were resuscitated artificially by Motion No. 1, it would impose an additional $640 million in cuts.
What does that translate into? It means $1,375,000,000 in Quebec alone in the year 2000. The Liberal government welcomes you to the year 2000, where if Quebec is still part of Canada-which I hope will not be the case-unemployment insurance will have been cut by $1,375,000,000.
And how much in the Atlantic provinces? This year $635 million, plus $344 million, to a total of $974 million less. What does that mean? It means $974 million less for groceries, rent, children' basic necessities. That is what those cuts represent. They affect what goes directly into the economy, not money used for speculative investments, but money injected directly into the economy.
Did the government even look at the economic impact of these cuts in disadvantaged regions, of which there are many in Quebec and in the Atlantic provinces? Did it even give this a thought? We have been shown studies of all sorts, but no economic impact studies have been done. The only thing it came up with, no doubt because it heard rumbling, was the figure of $300 million over three years, peanuts compared with the cuts I just mentioned.
So it is not surprising that the people in the disadvantaged regions rose up. It is not surprising that the bishops in the Gaspé rang the bells-a sort of alarm in the event of fire-because the ordinary folks will be finding themselves facing extremely hard times.
Why did the government not let the bill die on the Order Paper instead of resurrecting it? There is still time for the government to give it some thought.
It should not underestimate the anger and discontent of the ordinary people, who are facing cuts, who know there are more to
come and who have only this little bit of security. There was indeed abuse and a system in certain regions. But individuals are not at fault, the fault lies with the labour market, which is not providing the jobs it should. We should be going after it and not after the people who are eking out a living.
I implore the government not to bring back this bill. The best way would be for it to withdraw this anti-democratic and exceptional motion, which the hon. members opposite opposed with virulence in 1991, in conditions that were not so harsh as they are now. Their responsibility before history, Parliament and society will be heavy.
Herb Grubel Capilano—Howe Sound, BC
Mr. Speaker, your predecessor on May 29, 1991 ruled the following according to Beauchesne's fifth edition, citation 167(1):
The effect of a prorogation is at once to suspend all business until Parliament shall be summoned again. Not only are the sittings of Parliament at an end, but all proceedings pending at the time are quashed. Every bill must therefore be renewed after a prorogation, as if it were introduced for the first time.
I now continue with the text of the ruling of your predecessor. He said:
Thus prorogation gives Parliament the chance to start anew in dealing with the business of the nation.
While the effects of prorogation are clear, there have been many occasions when the government has sought the permission of the House to reinstate legislation considered in the previous session. This has always been considered an extraordinary procedure. In fact, on two separate occasions, July 1977 and March 1982, the House amended its standing orders to permit certain bills to be reinstated in the next session. These and other instances of reinstatement-have been dealt with by unanimous consent.
This tradition was not followed in 1991 and it is not being followed in this year's prorogation. All that the opposition demanded in 1991 is being demanded by Reformers and the Bloc now: government, please do not use a omnibus motion to reinstate all bills that died with prorogation; instead, bring them up for unanimous consent, one by one. We the opposition have not only the right but the duty to examine the reinstatement of each bill on its own merit.
Prorogation means the government decides to end a session of Parliament and suspend all business. Governments have historically used this mechanism because they have exhausted their agendas and wish to use the throne speech to set a new tone. All of this is business hallowed by long and valued tradition. It has served Canada and other parliamentary democracies well. It should be
changed only after it has shown clearly that it no longer serves such democracies.
The change in tradition introduced in 1991 and continued with the present motion threatens to destroy the basic purpose of prorogation: the opportunity for government to start parliamentary business anew with a new throne speech.
With the quasi-automatic reintroduction of unfinished bills from the preceding Parliament, all we have left of this tradition is a throne speech with its accompanying expensive pomp and vacuous media hype. The essential element of a clean legislative slate is gone. The historic modification of permitting the reintroduction of selected pieces of previous legislation is nullified by the insistence that all such previous legislation be reinstated without proper debate on each.
Perhaps it is more efficient in our times to have such omnibus motions. During the 1990s in one debate one the members of the present government, then in opposition, suggested that such an innovation should be embodied in a bill brought before the House before prorogation. Reformers agree and are ready any time to be persuaded that changing this or any other parliamentary tradition is in the interest of all Canadians. We were never given the opportunity by the government to vote on this matter.
Now here we are in the enjoyable position of being able to cite for all some of the remarks made by individuals now on the government side of the House, citations which show how power corrupts.
The former member for Ottawa-Vanier, now in the other chamber, said in a speech given on the occasion of prorogation in 1991, page 647: "I cannot understand why this government, these government bullies now want to impose their will on the House of Commons through force of numbers and then would have us believe that they are sensitive to parliamentary reform and want Canadians to see this House work in a friendly, co-operative way".
I continue with a remark by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands:
I want to deal with the propriety of the motion that the government has introduced. I suggest that it is contrary to all the practices of this House for the last 124 years. It is a breach of the proprieties of this place. I suggest that it is morally wicked of the government to proceed with this motion and particularly then to apply closure to the motion and thereby curtail the debate on it. What the government is doing by this, and let us make it perfectly clear what is happening here, is short-circuiting the legislative process.
I suggest that this is wrong. It is wickedly wrong. It is a gross violation of the constitutional principles on which this House has operated since Confederation. Indeed it is contrary to the whole practice of British parliamentary tradition for 900 years. Nothing like this has ever been tried before. I suggest it is wrong. The government knows it is wrong.
These are remarks made and recorded in Hansard by members of the present government in the House to a motion identical to the one before us today when they were opposing it.
Let me continue with another quotation by the hon. member, now a minister, for Cape Breton-East Richmond: "I contend that the motion is in principle unacceptable in that it seeks to circumvent, indeed to subvert, the normal legislative process in this House".
How can these members of Parliament look us in the eye when they stand to vote in favour of closure, in favour of this motion which they opposed with such strong words in the past?
The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands a few days later in 1991 said, commenting on this motion: "In other words there was always a debate allowed at third reading of every bill that was reinstated, but here in this motion today we have a bill that is deemed passed by this House, so there will be no debate at any stage on this bill".
The record notes an hon. member interrupted the speech saying: "That is terrible". The hon. member who had the floor said: "It is a national disgrace". Another hon. member yelled: "It is a travesty". These are the same members who have the affront today to get up and vote for a motion which they had a short five years ago condemned in such strong words. Let me continue with the speech made by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands. He said:
If this kind of thing was reported in parliamentary journals around the world, the Canadian Parliament would become a laughing stock because of the outrageous conduct of the government in introducing this motion. It violates all the constitutional principles of debating bills at three readings in the House of Commons. That is the standard practice in every British parliamentary institution and has been for hundreds of years, and this government is violating this practice.
Who is to blame for this practice aside from all the members on the other side? The government itself had a choice.
They had a choice. Remember those words. The members opposite may remember them because they came up in a debate. They had a choice. They chose to prorogue the last session and leave the business unfinished on the Order Paper. They sent us away through April and early May and said: "We do not want you in Ottawa. We do not want questions every day. We do not want to listen to you. We do not want our sins exposed to the people of Canada on national television here on the floor of the House of Commons".
I could not have said it better. The only thing I would change in order to make this a speech relevant for today's situation is to say: You have kept us away from here and the opportunity to do things
for Canadians by debating the issues on the floor of the House until February 27, when we were supposed to return much, much earlier.
The situation has not changed. These kinds of rulings and motions simply show how people change once they get power. Once they are sitting on one side and they see the interest of the people in continuing with traditions that have served the country so well, they argue one way and in the strongest fashion one can imagine. The words were used by the same individuals who are now in power. We all know power corrupts. What do the Liberals do? They have the nerve to stand up and look us in the eye and do exactly what they have condemned so strongly in the past.
Another favoured member in the government had a few words to say on this. It is the hon. member for Halifax. I can just see her demeanour when she read into the record the following:
I can only say that the government should hang its head in shame. One wonders today why the government prorogued the House of Commons last time. Why did it prorogue? We heard a speech from the throne which did not appear to tell us anything new or different. It did not appear to give us any new blueprint for Canadians. It was remarkably low on specifics about its programs. Yet we had the prorogation. One presumes it was because the government wanted to get away from here, take some time, regroup and come back with some fresh ideas.
Instead of fresh ideas, we have today this pernicious-and I underline that word-motion of the House leader ramming through five bills. We are just supposed to pretend that prorogation did not take place. We are just supposed to accept the government's decision that these bills will come to this Parliament in the state in which they were supposed to have died in the last Parliament.
I challenge the member for Halifax to look me in the eye, remembering the words I have just read which she said on the occasion when the government pushed on the House a similar closure motion that is under discussion today. It is very revealing the way power corrupts.
I have a few more quotations. Some of them are quite delicious. I must say I am disappointed to read that this is the way these individuals talked. The member for Winnipeg North Centre said:
The role of the opposition is to be a thoughtful opposition and a thoughtful critic of what the government is trying to do. But the lack of opportunity as posed to us in this case makes it very difficult for an opposition party to continue to deal with the government when we do not feel the government is being honest in its motives.
I cannot help myself but read this. It is from one of the most articulate and argumentative members of this House who has departed for higher callings. Now the premier of a province, the former member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte said:
The governing party of the day, regrettably for the country-a country in desperate need of leadership on the constitutional front, a country in desperate need of leadership on the economic front-does not have the confidence of the people. Even as a member of the opposition, one who wants to replace the governing party, I say it is regrettable for Canada that at this time in our history only 14 per cent or 12 per cent or 8 per cent of Canadians have confidence in the government of the day.
What does this government do? Does it attempt to lay bare before the people of Canada its agenda? Does it attempt to persuade the people of Canada and the elected representatives of the people of Canada of the value of its agenda? Does it say it has a vision for Canada and such a profound belief in our vision for Canada that we are prepared to debate it and to defend it?
No, it uses the tyranny of the majority. It uses the temporary trust given to this party as a consequence of an election two and a half or three years ago to bulldoze its legislative measures through the Parliament of Canada, to deny the people of Canada a chance to be heard, to deny the elected representatives of the people of Canada-not an opportunity to speak, but their obligation to speak, their responsibility to be heard in the proper examination of bills.
This is merely a sample of the kinds of words and arguments a group of people while they were in opposition used to oppose a motion that now has been introduced in this Parliament. But the tables have turned. These same members are now part of the elite. They are part of the government. They have power.
We can see how much power corrupts. The principles they enunciated and the strength of the convictions they had at that point have gone down the drain. I challenge each and every one of the hon. members who made such strong statements, when they stand up to vote, to acknowledge that they are voting against their own words and their own arguments.
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, the government motion before us would allow a minister or member to reinstate, in the first 30 sitting days of this session, a bill to the legislative stage it had reached at the time of prorogation, as soon as he or she proposes the motion for first reading. In theory, this would enable the government to resuscitate all bills before the House at the time of prorogation. Private bills would be treated the same way.
The amendment put forward by my colleague from Berthier-Montcalm is aimed at dividing the process in as many parts as there are bills, since a member could object to the reinstatement of any bill. The bill would then have to go back to square one, especially if it is challenged and opposed by the public. I am thinking in particular of the bill respecting employment insurance in Canada.
I think that the government motion is irregular and undemocratic. When a government ends a session, it means that it has done its job or that it faces new challenges and wants to give its mandate a new direction. The Liberals, who are now in power, held a very
different view in 1991: they felt that such a motion was irregular and undemocratic when the Tories tried to use it for the first time.
I will quote a few statements made by the same people who are now sitting on the government side of this House. Let us look at some members' statements. I will start with the hon. member for LaSalle-Émard, who is now Minister of Finance, and I quote: "We find ourselves in the situation we are now in. The bill died on the Order Paper. In its supreme arrogance and lack of understanding, this government comes to us and says: `we would like to reinstate it"'. He called a bill similar to the one now before the House arrogant and incomprehensible.
I continue with another quote. For his part, the hon. member for Cape Breton-East Richmond felt that the government was "trying to reinstate legislation which has fallen dead as a result of the government's own ineptitude and subsequent action with regard to proroguing this Parliament". That is exactly what this government is doing. It ended the last session by proroguing Parliament.
One last quote, because I do not want to quote them all. I will conclude with the hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, who is still a member of Parliament and an influential government member. He said: "The implications of ruling this motion in order would be such that I fear we could render-if a government wanted to, and I am not saying that it does-this House of Commons totally irrelevant and redundant." That is what members of this government had to say on the issue back in 1991, when they were in opposition.
If this practice was described as unacceptable in 1991, what makes it acceptable today? If the Conservatives called certain Liberal opposition members stupid and self-righteous for doing this, how are the Liberals different from the Conservatives? Personally, I can see no difference as far as this bill is concerned.
If the government decided to prorogue Parliament, it must have had good reasons for doing so: to renew its legislative agenda. What does it need this kind of procedure for then? The bills that could be reintroduced are not, by definition, new. If the government wants to reintroduce one or two of its old bills, it can do so through the normal process, which includes debating. But there is more. Some of these bills are unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois as well as to the people of Quebec and Canada.
A case in point is one the major pieces of legislation that died on the Order Paper, namely Bill C-111, the employment insurance bill. This bill is unacceptable to us. Clearly, and we all read the papers and watch the news on the tube, protests are on the rise. As far as I can see, the people of Quebec and Canada are horrified at the current situation and at the decisions made by this government.
Bill C-111 penalizes the unemployed, those who do not have a job, and it penalizes women, a group that I have the honour of representing in this House. Let me tell you how it penalizes women; you will see what I mean.
An impact assessment carried out by the federal government shows that the hardest hit will be individuals earning less than $25,000. It is a well known fact that the low income earners of our society are women, women and young people also. Second, eligibility requirements would be tighter, eligibility being determined on the basis of the total number of hours worked over a given time instead of the number of weeks worked. In addition, it will be much more difficult for first-time claimants to qualify, which means women re-entering the labour force after having been away for a long time and young people will be hit hard.
The program set out in Bill C-111 would greatly limit the number of people eligible for benefits. Moreover, while not being eligible for benefits, these people would still have to make contributions, thereby growing poorer. That is not employment insurance.
It is also proposed that workers who hold precarious and seasonal jobs would receive less benefits. The fact is that close to 70 per cent of part time workers are women. There are 1.5 million of them in Canada.
The bill is also unacceptable because the spouse's income would be taken into account in determining whether a person is entitled to the supplement. In other words, a woman whose spouse earns an income would not be eligible for such a supplement. This creates two forms of discrimination: one against all women, and the other against those who have a spouse, as opposed to living alone.
Finally, this bill seeks to reduce the maximum number of weeks of benefits. This measure would inevitably result in making people turn to welfare more quickly, and as such shifts the load onto another level of government. As we know, once a person ends up on welfare, it becomes very difficult for that person to find a job. In my own riding, it is a pity to see, on the one hand, the lack of available jobs and, on the other hand, the increasingly large number of welfare recipients.
The bill would also maintain duplication and overlap, something which does not promote the development of an efficient employment policy, nor employability for workers and women. As we know, there is a consensus in Quebec on the need to implement an effective employment policy.
Bill C-111 died on the Order Paper when Parliament prorogued, and it is a very good thing. The government should go back to the
drawing board and take responsibility for its indecisiveness, because this is how I see this legislation.
Since it was elected, this government has shown a remarkable lack of vision. It goes nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Last week's speech from the throne did nothing to improve the situation. Its main feature is that it is as vague as possible, so as to lend itself to any number of interpretations.
There is a truism in Canada that says that when everyone agrees with a statement, it is because that statement is totally meaningless. To let the government's motion go through today would be tantamount to encouraging the confusion that, unfortunately, has prevailed since the beginning of this Parliament.
The government must go back to the drawing board. It must try to come up with a new and consistent legislative agenda. After all, this is what prorogation is all about, is it not?
The amendment proposed by my colleague seeks to give this House some democratic control over the issues that we debate. It provides for the speedy passing of those bills for which there is unanimity, while excluding such a possibility for the more controversial ones. This amendment is a true reflection of the democratic spirit that must govern the proceedings of this House. This is why I ask all members to support it.
I also ask the Minister of Justice to reinstate Bill C-119, on genital mutilation. Even though this measure could be improved on, it deals with an issue for which a degree of consensus already exists in the House. Therefore, it would certainly be appropriate for the minister to take advantage of this opportunity provided by the hon. for Berthier-Montcalm.
Unlike Bill C-111 on employment insurance, Bill C-119 does not perpetuate, nor does it increase, discrimination against women. On the contrary, it seeks to ensure that women can continue to hope that their bodies will not be subjected to harsh treatment. We are grateful to the minister, and we urge him to continue his work in that respect.
I therefore ask the government to withdraw this bill and to come up with a new agenda that would take into account certain social and economic realities, as well as the realities of the labour market.
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
Mr. Speaker, I would like to confine my comments to three general areas.
First, I would like to speak to the notion of why we are debating this in the first place, rather than the how. Quite a lot of the debate has dealt with the mechanics of how bills are introduced or reintroduced and not a whole lot of thought has been given to why bills are introduced or reintroduced.
Second, I would like to spend a couple of minutes talking about the difference between private members' business and government business and why, in my opinion, private members' business should be treated discretely and differently than government legislation.
Third, I would like to touch on what really should be the power of the government, exactly how encompassing and how overpowering is the power of the government.
I will begin with the third point. Those of us in the Chamber are acutely aware of how this place works, but many Canadians are not. After being elected I came here full of hope, inspiration and with the brightest of lights shining in my eyes. I thought as the member of Parliament representing the people of Edmonton Southwest, I was going to have a say in how the government ran the country. Well, was I surprised. I am sure many Liberal backbenchers found themselves in quite the same state of surprise. As a matter of fact I think some of the cabinet ministers may have been surprised. I am not suggesting that the government is alone. To my knowledge, all governments in Canada run on a premise which is: "How do we go about getting re-elected?" The first objective after being elected is how to get re-elected because power is everything. If one does not have power in politics one might as well be washing floors somewhere because not very much is accomplished. Yes, one can have some influence with luck. That is what private member's business is all about. It is all of the backbenchers on the government and on the opposition sides who are trying to make our country work not a lot better but a little bit better, just incrementally to trying to do something worthwhile.
The path of private members' business through the House to become legislation is laborious and long. There are all kinds of checks and balances. Private members' bills very rarely become law. It is not part of the government agenda.
When the throne speech was read there was not one single word about the government saying: "We know we have 295 people in the House of Commons, most of whom are here for the right reasons: to make our country work better. Therefore, we are going to see what we can do to use private members' business to create legislation".
It has never been that way. If good private members' legislation is introduced very often it is co-opted by the government and we will see it rearing its head again as government legislation. Perhaps that is not all bad. It does not matter. If the legislation is passed it has to go through this process.
However, private members' business is very different from government business. When government puts out an agenda it is its agenda to get re-elected. If that means it is going to do whatever it has to do to meet the requirements of the perceived wants of the
body politic that is what it is going to do. That is why governments change direction from time to time. That is why there are traditionally in a country different opinions of different values represented by different political parties.
In Canada we do not really have that differentiation. The Liberal Party changes its spots to meet whatever the expectations of the body politic are. It has worked successfully for most of our time as a country and it is likely that is the way it is going to be in the future. It does not really matter whether the left and the right or the yin and the yang is met because the country changes political parties or if the political party that is in power changes to meet the demands of the people. That happens. The government has the ability, the authority and the responsibility to bring forward whatever legislation it wants because it has a majority. It will introduce that legislation and that legislation will be passed. Nothing the opposition has to say will change that. Absolutely nothing will change the opinion of the government once it has its mind made up and it has a head of steam.
Therefore, the only possible way that any backbencher from the government side or the opposition side is able to have meaningful input into the affairs of the nation is through private members' business. These bills may be very meaningful or they may be relatively small but they are evidence of the fact that people have been elected who represent their constituents.
I have a vested interest in this debate because I have a private member's bill that made it through committee. If one is playing Snakes and Ladders, that is all the way up to just about the top of one set of ladders. The problem is that when one makes it over the top one is on the downhill slide again which is what happens with House business. When the the House prorogues and all of the business dies on the Order Paper that means all of the private members' business dies as well.
When I first heard that the government was planning on changing legislation to bring back its own business as well as private members' business, my immediate reaction was that we should be careful what we say because whatever is said on this side of the House is likely going to come back to haunt us when we get to the other side of the House. We have stacks and stacks and stacks of words that Liberal members on the government side, most of them cabinet ministers, said when another government tried to do exactly the same thing, that the government business should die and it should be brought back again. If they want to do so they should bring it back starting from square one.
My original reaction was that there is a fair amount of work to go through to get these things done. It goes through the legislative branch of the House of Commons. There is a lot of work to get legislation here. If the government has a majority, it is going to come back sooner or later, why not bring it back sooner rather than later? They are the government. We will do whatever they suggest, so why not just do it?
That brings us to the how and why of this debate and why we are having it in the first place. I think that most people on this side of the House see the reasonableness in the argument that if you are going to bring back legislation, why not bring it back in the way that is the most cost effective and the easiest, leaving aside the fact that the government very probably has absolutely nothing on its platter other than the legislation it had in the last session. We are waiting of course.
The government woke from its great slumber and has decided that national unity is going to find its place on the front burners. The problem is that the government does not have any legislation so let us reintroduce the legislation that was on the books. Fine, but if this is the plan, would it not make sense for the House leaders to get together?
I could spend all kinds of time going through the hypocrisy of the litany of members opposite. They stand on that side of the House and say black is black when on this side of the House we are saying white is white. I know that if I get too far down that road, sooner or later the same thing will happen to me. Imagine what the people who are watching this debate as it unfolds today are thinking.
An hon. member
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
To the member opposite who just said to stop dreaming, it is his nightmare and my dream. They never thought they would see themselves back over there on that side of the House either.
I understand the way the government works. It is the right and the responsibility of the opposition to oppose and the government to propose and very much of what we do here sometimes goes by rote. We automatically oppose because that is what we are supposed to do. It is supposed to test and strengthen the legislation the government proposes.
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB
What about accountability? They were here and they have to be held accountable.
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
Members surrounding me are saying that perhaps the government should have been held accountable and should be accountable.
Jim Abbott Kootenay East, BC
No, they are Liberals. You cannot count on them.
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
They will be held accountable.
I apologize to members opposite if they are trying to find some thread to what I am saying. I am trying to find it again as well.
The power of the government in our House of Commons is absolute. I was quite surprised to learn just exactly how absolute that power is. I thought there would be an opportunity for not just members of Parliament in opposition and in the House but members of Parliament in committee to work in a much more collegial atmosphere in order to try to improve legislation. We are here for the benefit of the taxpaying Canadian citizen, for all of the citizens.
Given the fact everything the government does is considered a question of confidence, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that the whole notion of being able to lose a vote or to lose an argument or to look at legislation as a possible win-win rather than a win-lose is missing. It is missing here; it is missing in committee.
Members on this side feel frustrated as I am sure members opposite do when they are asked by constituents: "Why do you not do something about this or that? Here is a situation that obviously does not make sense. Why can you not do something about it?" When we say that we are not the government, people reply: "You are the government, you are a member of Parliament. You are part of the government". We say that yes we are, but we are not the people in charge and they ask: "Well, who is in charge?" The Liberals are in charge.
Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB
We are not sure.
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
The problem is this Parliament as with previous Parliaments is really run by the strategists in the parties and they are trying to figure out how to get re-elected.
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB