House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employees.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, an act to modernize employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed; and of the motion that the question we now put.

Public Service Modernization Act
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June 2nd, 2003 / 5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me conclude on this point. The difficulty is that if we incorporate a rewrite of an existing bill or existing act of Parliament, an existing law of the country, into a proposed bill, changes are being made from the existing legislation to what is in Bill C-25 which are not evident on their face unless we get supplementary binders.

I would like to quote from one of these binders, which shows the proposed text with regard to the oath or affirmation of office. It gives the proposed text, the current wording, and the explanation. This particular change would eliminate “so help me God” from the oath of office for public servants. I wanted to change that and in fact at committee stage I got it changed to get it back in. The explanation states that it had been removed to reflect the diversity of the Canadian public and respect for different religious beliefs.

We can imagine what it is like when we have to go through three binders of this. With all the work we have to do, it becomes very problematic. This is not a good model to follow in terms of legislation. I would ask Parliament and I would ask the House leaders and the government House leader to ensure that when bills come to this place we are not faced with a situation where parliamentarians cannot do an adequate job on the legislation. We cannot do our job when we are faced with pressure to get bills through but not given the time.

I have mentioned the oath. Let me say that not only was I disturbed that the oath eliminated reference to “so help me God”, but also disturbed that it eliminated reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

People have different views on the monarchy, but today is the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, today we have a new coin coming out with the new image of the Queen on it, and today we are debating a bill that eliminates reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The last time I looked, Mr. Speaker, this was the Parliament of Canada, based on the parliamentary model of Britain, Parliament being the Queen through her representative the Governor General, together with the Senate, and together with the House of Commons. That is Parliament. How is it that a bill could eliminate reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II without our having a debate in this place? We wanted to have a debate here. The Queen has been to Canada 22 times since she became Queen. That alone tells me that Queen Elizabeth II loves Canada, and from the reaction of Canadians when she comes here, it is clear that Canadians love Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

If we are going to change oaths, we have to change them in a transparent way. There was an attempt to move a motion before debate to have the bill sent back to committee so that it could reconsider eliminating the reference to Her Majesty in the legislation. However, there is now a motion before us that the question be now put. That prohibits anybody else from putting a motion to the House.

However, I am aware of at least three different items in the legislation that have to be repaired. Clauses 118 and 119 are inconsistent and have to be repaired. There is one clause in which the reference to “so help me God” has still not been reinstated because of a technicality at committee, which should be remedied. I think the House should have an opportunity to debate whether or not references to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II should be eliminated, rather than after only four speakers at third reading being pre-empted from making a motion to that effect.

I really believe that omnibus bills are not very helpful to parliamentarians. They allow us to get through the back door what we cannot get through the front door. If Canadians and parliamentarians at large knew that the references to God and to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were being summarily taken out of the oaths of office, given what we did with a private member's bill recently and the Citizenship Act, why is it that Parliament cannot debate here in the House what our oath should be in Canada? Where are our values?

Let me refer to today's Ottawa Citizen , in which I was absolutely amazed and delighted to see an editorial that stated:

Her Majesty is the embodiment of an institutional order that allows us to be the kind of nation that we are.

It went on to state that “the Crown represents order and justice...as an institution that transcends politics”. In short, the Crown is the “guardian of law and liberty”.

I believe that we should have an opportunity to discuss this in an open and transparent way and therefore I would propose a motion. I would like to ask for the unanimous consent of Parliament to withdraw the motion now before the House and to recommit the bill back to committee to reconsider the elimination of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II from the oath of office.

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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there consent to move the motion?

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5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, since early this morning, I have been working on the substance of the bill. Now that the hon. member for Mississauga South has spoken, I want to take this opportunity to mention that, several times, he was wise enough to support—as did I—certain events during the appearance of some witnesses.

However, a 282-page bill is being shoved down our throats, completely amending two acts and making consequential amendments to other acts. During clause by clause consideration in committee, we looked at the opposition's amendments and some of the government's amendments. But it must be said that entire acts were changed and the committee was unable to debate tor obtain the necessary explanations from witnesses, be it the minister, the deputy minister or the parliamentary secretary, about many of the amendments made.

At the time—and I had the support of the member for Mississauga South—we asked for explanations. In our opinion, something incredible happened; I would even say that this might create a precedent. The committee was not able to consider all the clauses and all the amendments in this 282-page bill.

The problem is as follows. There was an amendment, and the House asked that this bill be considered, even if the form is not only unusual but dangerous. This bill is a compilation of various acts, and we were not even able to consider the substance of changes to all these acts. The changes and amendments proposed by the opposition were considered, but not all the changes to the legislation were considered.

This is an extremely important point. I know that my hon. colleague on the government side agreed with me that this bill should have been split. It should have been considered properly. But there was a refusal to look at the real amendments in each of the bills.

Mr. Speaker, you are indicating that you are not granting me enough time to ask a question. I believe I have 10 minutes.

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In fact, 10 minutes are allocated for questions and comments. However, the hon. member who has just completed his speech must be given some time to reply to your questions and comments. At this point, you have taken 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

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5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are given 10 minutes for what is called comments. I can take the whole 10 minutes to make comments.

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Not necessarily, it is a question of cooperation, because the member who made the speech—

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5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

See, not necessarily, Mr. Speaker, but it could be done. I will take the two minutes left and he can have the other five minutes. Because it is very important.

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry, but I do not think so. If there is some time left after the hon. member for Mississauga South has replied, I will recognize you again.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member uses a couple of words that I think probably capsulize one of my key points when he says that the form of the bill is a dangerous form. I do not believe this type of approach to important legislation should ever be used, because it undermines the comfort level, the confidence level that parliamentarians can have when they are overwhelmed by three, four and five bills being dealt with at the same time, even though they may have some overlap.

We have inquired about this. It has happened before in a smaller case, but to have such a substantive piece of legislation come forward like this, I can only presume it is on the recommendation of the experts and the Privy Council. However, we are talking about the rights, the privileges and the duties of parliamentarians and I think we have to be very careful not to establish a precedent, by using this kind of dangerous form of bill, of having it become the norm.

I do not know how long I will be here as a member of Parliament, and I would like to be here longer, but while I am here I want at least the opportunity to fight the battles. I do not want to be here and not have had the opportunity at least to engage in debate and at least to fight for what I believe in. I do not want to be pre-empted. I have been pre-empted by a motion to put the question. I have been pre-empted by a bill that has a form which I do not believe is helpful to Parliament. Notwithstanding that I agree with many parts or most of the bill, I am not sure whether I have seen or appreciated all of the nuances of the changes being proposed, just simply because I did not have the opportunity to question the witnesses as fully as I would have liked and I did not have the opportunity to listen to other members of the committee question the witnesses as much as they should have. I needed time, and time was taken away simply by the form of the bill.

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take my colleague from the Liberals back to the issue of the oath. I look at the composition of Canada now and I must admit I am having some difficulty, if I understand him, with his position that the oath should be comprised of swearing allegiance both to God, and I assume he is referring to a Christian God, and to the Queen of England and of Canada, when we have so many in our population who do not have those types of relations with either the Queen, in terms of historical association, or Christianity.

I think of my experience in the courtroom, where we have over the last several decades become much more flexible on administering the oath for witnesses in that setting. We always have at least the Christian Bible, the Torah, the Koran and other religious documents on which people can swear an oath in the religion with which they are affiliated. In addition to that, we have an oath or an affirmation that can be made for those people who do not believe in a god at all.

I am asking my colleague, if we had a flexible oath would he be comfortable with that?

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5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member has made the case as to why there should be a debate in this place on the relevance and importance of the monarchy and of God or other deities in this place.

The oath of allegiance provides a practical context to carrying out one's duties. It reminds the office holder that the authority of his or her office derives from the Queen. The oath of office covers how the incumbent should carry out his or her duties. It makes no claim on their commitment to a social order of which they are about to become a governing part. The oath of allegiance is therefore intended to remind us of how the Crown is the linchpin in holding us together in its public manifestations.

The member is saying to me that if we do not have 100% consensus in the country, we must eliminate the value that we have. We have in our national anthem “God keep our land, glorious and free”. Let us take “God” out of the national anthem. Why not? That is what the member is arguing.

Policy by its very nature is discriminatory, but not in a negative context. We can discriminate affirmatively to show what we value. What is this country about? That is the issue and that is why we should have this debate. Sixty-three per cent of Canadians said that they wanted to retain the monarchy. We cannot ignore that. I do not believe we should eliminate everything in which there is not 100% consensus. If we do that, if we go down that treacherous road, we will have to get down to the lowest common denominator between all Canadians, and the best I can determine, that lowest common denominator is a single human cell.