House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was leader.

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Question No. 245
Routine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 245
Routine Proceedings

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Question No. 245
Routine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Government Orders

October 23rd, 2003 / 11 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

moved:

That, although thePrime Minister has a mandate and should be able to end it as hechooses, given the democratic imbalance that currently prevailsand that results in the government's decision-making occurringoutside this House, and more broadly outside any publicinstitution, this House calls upon the Prime Minister to leaveoffice as soon as possible after November 14, 2003.

Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I want to stress the fact that the issue now before the House is extremely important, since it deals with the very foundations of the democratic system in place in Canada, in Quebec and all the other Canadian provinces.

Indeed, those who are watching this debate should realize that, with a government where the powers are concentrated in the hands of one man, the Prime Minister, the opposition is there to provide the necessary checks and balances.

That being said, everyone knows how important it is to have, in a properly balanced Parliament, a strong opposition that is able to debate public policies, make suggestions and monitor government action, an opposition that stands up for those who do not share the government's position.

Our system needs proper balance to function, since the government speaks for a huge segment of the population, has all the power and spends all the money, and basically does whatever is needed to reach its goals.

Nevertheless, with all that concentration of power, our role in the House of Commons is to provide balance. The opposition members have a responsibility to prevent the government from going too far in using public money or from considering only one point of view when making its policy decisions.

Among the excellent mechanisms that enable the opposition to play this role are the parliamentary committees, which are extremely important and whose role I certainly would not deny, and in particular there is the oral question period every day in Parliament.

There is a reason why question period attracts so much interest from journalists, the media as a whole and the general public. It is not because of its more spectacular aspects, but because of the importance of what happens at that time. The government's actions often come under scrutiny during question period.

For example, take the sponsorship scandal; how often were the government's decisions and approaches, which we thought reprehensible, pointed out to the public by opposition questions?

How many people have had to give an accounting of themselves to the public during question period? And how many government policies have been changed or modified because of opposition insistence during question period? Question period is the best opportunity our fellow citizens have to be heard in Parliament. It is time set aside for all those who do not share the government's views to be heard through the opposition members. The government knows that and has a great moral obligation.

It has an obligation to give an account of its mandate to the other elected representatives who have the time to dig, to research, to look, to challenge points of view. That is democratic balance.

All this rests on the basic concept that the government is responsible. The government makes decisions. The government is responsible for its decisions. The government can change its decisions. The government can consult the people. The government can reverse itself. The government can launch an inquiry. The government can decide to proceed further with any of its policies.

The government has all the powers, but they are kept in check by the opposition, particularly in Parliament. During the summer or Christmas recess, there is a democratic deficit, to some extent, because this process does not work as well. As a result, the media, conferences and press conferences are used by the various parties. This ensures balance, but one that is not as perfect or as complete.

So all this power is concentrated in the hands of the government, particularly the Prime Minister's. The Prime Minister has the power of political life or death over each member of his caucus. He has the keys to the limousines. He has enormous power to influence his ministers. Everyone knows the role of the Prime Minister's office. For example, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration wanted to get involved in the matter relating to the Montreal Grand Prix and was told by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, “You, shut up”.

We know the importance of the Prime Minister's office and the Prime Minister when it comes to government policy. No one has a problem with that. Everyone knows that the opposition members are not subject to that pressure. The government members are unhappy. They are fighting for a spot in cabinet, but once they get picked, the Prime Minister is the one who set the policies.

But what is happening now? The problem raised by this motion is that the person with the keys to the limousines is now outside Parliament or hiding behind the curtain. That is the current problem. In a few months this individual will have the ultimate power to tell the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, “You are the minister and you accept or do not accept those responsibilities”. That person is hiding behind the curtain. He is not sitting in the Prime Minister's seat. No need to be partisan to understand that this gives enormous clout to an individual designated in advance, who will be in place in a few months and who can therefore influence all the ministers interested in keeping their jobs.

The Prime Minister, who usually holds the power, now finds himself in the back seat because everyone knows that he is on his way out. I can hardly see him shuffling his cabinet in October when his successor will be chosen in November. The Prime Minister is powerless. The person who is supposed to be holding the power in a parliamentary system like ours is now powerless. Everybody knows that he is leaving.

At least, if there were a real leadership race, things would be different. But no, the successor is known. There is not a single member in this House, not a single reporter in the press gallery, not a single person in all of Canada who does not know that the member for LaSalle—Émard will become the next leader of the Liberal Party. It is a done deal. The delegates are known, and the ratio is 90 to 10. The event itself no longer has any significance for anyone.

So we know who the successor will be. The man who is supposed to have the most power has become powerless. His successor is known, he is a member of this House and he exerts his terrible influence on the government from behind the curtains. This is what is unhealthy for our system.

Allow me to give some examples, like the prebudget consultations, a key step in the preparation of the government's budget. We are talking about billions of dollars in taxes that belong to our fellow citizens, to those who are watching us. They pay those taxes with their hard-earned money and want their tax dollars to be managed in the best interests of the community. What is happening? The Minister of Finance is holding consultations. However, our next prime minister—at least for the remainder of this mandate, after that, we will see—is not taking part in these consultations.

So we have the Minister of Finance, who moreover is apparently not in the good books of the next prime minister, trying to hold consultations. He is apparently preparing the budget. While these consultations are being held, the present PM and finance minister indicate to us that the government should invest in social programs. In the meantime, a single obscure adviser to the future PM says that 10% should be cut from all departments, so everyone realizes that the entire prebudget consultation process is a farce.

I would go so far even as to say that the present prebudget consultations, which are an important exercise for our fellow citizens as well as for MPs, are of no greater importance than if I personally decided to hold them all across Canada. If I did, the public would at least be assured that the opposition would bring back to Parliament the policies they had asked for.

The only thing people can be sure of now with this headless government is that any policies they might ask for will be systematically brushed aside by the person who is going to take over, he who is locked in an internal struggle with the others.

The Kyoto protocol is one issue that stirred up members of this Parliament, and in fact all over the world. The government finally signed the protocol, to our great satisfaction moreover. Objective as we are, we congratulated them on this. We encouraged it, pushed them to do it. It is a fine example of what we have been able to accomplish here. They signed it, and we agree.

Yet the man who is now experiencing his finest hours behind the curtains of this Chamber, and in the corridors of this Parliament, has always expressed some strong reservations about the signing of the Kyoto protocol. What would happen to the budgets allocated to Kyoto implementation in order to protect the environment, when we know that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment, and all the ministers of this government, agreed to sign, to invest funds, and to move on this issue?

But he whose presence is occasionally felt in this Chamber does not agree. As members of the opposition, we would love to see him seated here so he could answer our questions, answer the questions of the people through us, in this House, questions the government has a duty to answer.

In the present situation, and given the fact that the principle of responsible government is not being upheld, we now have before us a government that is not responsible because of the Liberal Party, because of the ambition of the present Prime Minister and because of the ambition of his successor, whose presence is felt in the House. That is the problem.

We have more recent examples that are unfortunate. I would like to draw the attention of those who may think this motion is irrelevant to a story in La Presse dealing with the Prime Minister. I will change the names in my quotation in order to stay within the rules:

The Prime Minister said, “[The public works minister] speaks on behalf of [the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard]. He does not speak on my behalf. I am not the one who will prepare the next budget. This is none of my business. I will lead the government up to a certain day, and there will be a new government on the following day”.

This is a serious matter when the Prime Minister of a country like Canada, who is carrying out his duties abroad, has to declare from a distance to a minister,e the public works minister, “What you have just said is not correct, since you are the spokesperson for the next PM. I am the Prime Minister, and as long as I am, for the next few months, this is not going to happen”.

Is the Prime Minister of Canada himself not telling us that the motion of the Bloc Quebecois is more than relevant? It is necessary.

This is terribly disturbing. Put yourselves in the citizens' shoes. Who do they believe when the Minister of Public Works and Government Services announces that cuts will be made in all the departments? People are worried, but they know that opposition members can do nothing, because members on the other side of the House are part of a irresponsible government. This is a government that no longer has a real leader. It no longer has political strength.

It is disturbing to a society when the future prime minister, supported by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, tells us that cuts will be made. The current Prime Minister is forced to say from Asia, “Just a minute; perhaps it will be true in four months, when I decide to retire or when my international farewell trip is over, but it is not true at this time”.

Everyone knows this is the case and that we cannot discuss these policies. We ask questions to the government and it tells us, “This is not our policy”. However, we know that its policy will apply as long as the Prime Minister decides to remain in his darned seat. This is an indication of how long the current government will last and how real much power it wields.

As a result, is it not logical for us as democratic people to demand a government that can provide answers? Is it not normal to demand a real Prime Minister, one who has the authority he needs to manage the affairs of the state?

All the ministers of this government are worried and are no longer making any decisions. The administrative machinery is in neutral and everyone knows it. Senior officials no longer want to move projects initiated by this government forward, because they know the government is counting down the hours. That is the reality.

I know this hurts the other side of the House. Those who are listening to us know that none of the current ministers, who are looking at us and making comments, can bet on their future. In four months, they might be backbenchers and, in six months, they might be defeated in the election, because people are going to turf out this irresponsible government.

If the government does not exercise self-discipline, if the Liberal Party and the Liberal government continue to use Parliament to stage the black comedy unfolding with respect to the leadership of their party, they will be harshly judged by the public. Those who are listening to us cannot accept announcements as important as a $7 billion surplus, cuts in all the departments and uncertainty for a number of programs, knowing that we are unable to ask a single question to those responsible.

To quote my friend, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, the current member for LaSalle—Émard, who will become prime minister, currently has all the advantages of being prime minister without having the courage to take the risks that come with this position. We do not accept this either. We want this man to face us in Parliament. We want the public to know him, we want to question him and we want him to be faced with democracy here, which is where it is exercised.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the points the member made in his opening speech and I think it important that the House reflect upon the elements, but to me it appears that there are some contradictory elements. Let me explain.

As a member of Parliament for almost 10 years now, I have come to know many members of the Bloc Québécois. I consider many of them my friends. We have always dealt with each other on a respectful basis. Beyond that, we have to understand that we have principles which we continue to defend. I understand that there is this defence that continues even today, in today's debate.

One of the aspects of the character of the Bloc Québécois always has been to protect the jurisdictional authority of others, including the Province of Quebec, and often the Bloc has made the argument, very eloquently, that the federal government from time to time would encroach on provincial jurisdiction. I do not have to go into the sovereignty question. The sovereignty of Quebec is another aspect of the same principle of jurisdictional authority.

Having said that about this being a founding or a fundamental principle of the Bloc Québécois, I would ask, is it not contrary to that philosophy of the Bloc, then, to come to this place and to suggest that somehow Parliament should interfere in the jurisdictional authority of another political party?

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11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I welcome it and think it will give me an opportunity to provide a necessary clarification, because this was raised many times in this Parliament. I am sure that my hon. colleague will approve of the arguments I will make.

Many wonder why the Bloc Quebecois is acting against its nature by sitting in this place. We are asked this question often, and legitimately so, by federalists who regard us as are seeking to destroy this Confederation by making Quebec a country, which is contrary to the philosophy of the central government.

I will tell them this. In our political system, all citizens are equal. I know that the hon. member agrees with me on that. All citizens are equally required to pay taxes and contribute to the effort made by the government. Regardless of their thinking, political views, ethnic background or religion, all citizens are asked to contribute to this collective effort on an equal basis. In return, all the taxpayers of this country have the right to be heard.

Quebeckers pay a significant portion of the taxes paid in this country and, historically, they made a very significant contribution to the creation of this country. Like all taxpayers, they have the privilege and the right to elect representatives. So, they elected representatives to come and defend, democratically, their views in this federal Parliament.

The Quebeckers who have sent us here are full-fledged citizens. They have the same rights and obligations as all Canadians. They elected a great team of representatives who are not afraid of voicing their concerns in this Parliament.

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11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very interesting debate we are having today. With today's motion, the Bloc Quebecois has focused what has become obvious over the last several months about the dysfunctionality of the government and the way it is making the transition of power.

We need to get something important on the record, and I would ask the Bloc to consider this. We are going to be hearing from the government House leader in a moment. He is going to argue that this is a motion of confidence in the government. He will say that by passing this motion it is a vote of non-confidence and if the government falls, we will have to go to an immediate election. It is part of a scare tactic; I saw it in the paper this morning. I am sure it is going to be part of his argument.

Marleau and Montpetit on page 37 states that motions of non-confidence have to be:

--explicitly worded motions which state, in express terms, that the House has, or has not, confidence in the government;

implicit motions of confidence, that is, motions traditionally deemed to be questions of confidence, such as motions for the granting of Supply...motions concerning the budgetary policy of the government and motions respecting the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.

Those motions are expressly motions of non-confidence.

In order to assure the government House leader before he gives his speech, I would like some assurances from the Bloc that this is not a motion of non-confidence in the government. I would like the Bloc to confirm that this motion simply addresses an administration idea that we should have access to one of two prime ministers, the one actually making decisions, not the one who is before us day after day.

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11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very good question. Let me tell you this: the motion, as worded, is not imperative in nature. It does not demand that the Prime Minister leave office immediately. It invites him to do so at a moment that seems appropriate to us for the sake of democracy.

That being said, it is not a motion of non-confidence in the government. The government House leader made it a non-confidence motion for a very simple reason, namely because most members of his party no longer support the Prime Minister and were tempted to vote in favour of our motion.

The government would then have been forced to tell the Prime Minister, “The majority of the House wants you to leave. Could you please leave?”

This is what it is all about. It was made into a motion of non-confidence in the government to threaten Liberal members, telling them that if our motion were carried, there would have to be an election with the current leader.

Out goes the challenger. This is what it is all about. This is why the government House leader made this decision.

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11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, like my colleagues, I admire the work of the member for Roberval. I have watched him here in various roles. He knows this place as well as any of us. He also knows that this is a very complicated and very important operation, costing roughly $1 billion a working day. It is part of a complex federal system. The changeover from one government to another is not a simple process.

In the United States where it is even more complex, it takes at least one year in eight, sometimes one year in four, for the changeover. It involves an elaborate electoral process, then a swearing in ceremony, then a period of time for the changeover.

The member knows that the change here is already going on. The bureaucracy is preparing for the change. The House is preparing for the change. For example, it is only 11:30 and we have already dealt with two bills this morning. Psychologically across the country, preparations are being made. The change is actually going on.

I suspect, and I am disappointed in the member for this, that behind the motion there is a personal concern about the present Prime Minister. After 40 years in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister deserves more respect than he is getting this morning from the motion.

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11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague. I know he respects the House and has a good knowledge of it. However, he is wrong, and I will explain why.

When there is a general election, no one can anticipate the result. Thus, no one can quietly prepare for a transition. However, the government that is elected, generally in the following week, takes charge of business. Ministers are appointed. They start working in the following days.

If we can replace a prime minister, all the ministers and all the senior staff in the PMO, if we can do all this within a week, why would it take six months to replace a Liberal leader?

I want an explanation. This is what we have a problem with. We do not have a problem with the Prime Minister. We do not have a problem with the member for Saint-Maurice, who is probably considered as a nice guy by many of you, but you no longer want him, and neither do we.

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11:30 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether my speech will be as dramatic as the one we have just heard. Probably not, but I hope it will have some substance.

I am not surprised that members of the opposition are trying these tactics to attack the Prime Minister once again. It is a mystery to me though to see why they would choose such a blatant motion of non-confidence to accomplish the objective.

Marleau and Montpetit tell us, and I quote from pages 36 and 37:

An essential feature of parliamentary government is that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible to, or must answer to, the House of Commons as a body for their actions and must enjoy the support and the confidence of a majority of the Members of that Chamber... This is commonly referred to as the confidence convention.

I was reading from Marleau and Montpetit. The hon. member opposite has the right to disagree with Marleau and Montpetit, just as she has the right to disagree on other matters. That is her business, but it does not change the truth.

I quote again from Marleau and Montpetit, who say, on page 42:

Resignation may be prompted by a defeat in a general election, [or] by the operation of the confidence convention alone—

Therefore by calling on the Prime Minister to resign, it may be a polite motion to resign, one that is felicitous of the government, such as is the case this morning. The motion is so praising of the Liberal Party that it recognizes that a Liberal prime minister will be succeeded by another Liberal prime minister. On that score, I have no disagreement with the folks across the way that the next prime minister will be another Liberal prime minister and, might I add, will be a prime minister for a very long time as well.

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11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Stay arrogant.

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11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I am not being cocky here. I am merely agreeing to that extent with the one who proposed the motion, but of course only to that extent.

Regardless of how felicitous it is, the fact is not changed that the House would not have confidence in the Prime Minister. If they are asking the Prime Minister to resign, whether they are asking him to resign on October 23, today's date on the calendar in front of us, or whether they are asking the Prime Minister to resign on November 7, November 8 or November 9 does not change anything. They are still asking the Prime Minister and of course his government to resign.

Calling on the Prime Minister to resign is a motion of non-confidence. That is well established. It is a call for a change of prime minister and therefore a call for a change of government.

If a party in power changes government on its own, it can do so. It is a different ministry but the same Parliament. Ample precedents in Marleau and Montpetit, Beauchesne and all our other procedural manuals will attest to that. If a government is called upon to resign and is voted on by the majority of the House, it causes a dissolution, not invented by your humble servant, Mr. Speaker. That has been the case from time immemorial. It is a call to change a government by way of a vote of the House.

Mr. Speaker, being the non-partisan person that you are, you will understand this. This is a motion of non-confidence. Marleau and Montpetit state that such cases, and I quote from page 43, in talking about a case where the prime minister, being defeated on a motion of the House, has to resign and the motion passes “the prime minister must either resign or seek a dissolution”. He must then call a general election. This means that the government would have been defeated on a motion of non-confidence.

Let us look at the blunt political facts of the matter. To use parliamentary language, this is a Prime Minister who has kicked the back of the front of some of the members across. He is a Prime Minister who has stared down eight leaders of the opposition, including three leaders of the Bloc. He is a Prime Minister who has defeated 10 leaders of the so-called disunited right, and that is only since 1993. That is not a bad record. It has forced the party of Sir John A. into a merger--well, not a merger, a takeover is more like it--by another group of people.

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11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

A hostile takeover.

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11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

A hostile takeover perhaps, as one of my colleagues has said so eloquently.

Of course the Prime Minister has made it such that the Bloc can no longer try to get this country divided by way of facile imprecise motions and so on. He has made it such that clarity enters the debate. He is a Prime Minister who has won three straight majority governments, a feat unequalled in almost 100 years. If ever a Prime Minister has earned a right to set his future date of retirement and the termination of his mandate, surely this Prime Minister has earned that right, but that is another point.

We could perhaps take a few moments to talk about this government's accomplishments, recognizing, of course, as the Bloc says, that there will be even more great Liberal achievements after the next Liberal leader takes over, when the current leader is replaced, again according to the Bloc, by another Liberal leader.

At least we can congratulate the Bloc on having already conceded defeat on the other side of the House. The hon. member may lack some judgment, but at least his judgment on this point is very good, as the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord has said.

Let us look at the accomplishments of this government. This government has been in place since 1993 under the current Prime Minister. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard was a member of cabinet for quite a long time; the hon. member for Hamilton East is also a member of the cabinet, as is your humble servant. And then there are all the current ministers, and those of the future, along with the Liberal backbenchers who will remain on the government side, according to the Bloc.

The House will recall that in 1993 we inherited a country on the verge of bankruptcy, with a $42 billion debt. We have had six consecutive budget surpluses, including the one announced yesterday by the hon. Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister of Canada—