Debates of Nov. 17th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was election.
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Questions on the Order Paper
November 17th, 2005 / 10:15 a.m.
Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions on the Order Paper
Is that agreed?
Questions on the Order Paper
Some hon. members
Questions on the Order Paper
The hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest on a point of order.
Questions on the Order Paper
Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Again let me note that questions on the order paper have to be answered in a timely fashion. The government is dragging its feet. I am not sure what it is trying to hide, but we went through this yesterday. Wednesday is the only day on which the Speaker will actually call Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers. We went through this issue yesterday. Why is the government dragging its feet on some of the most important issues facing the nation when it could answer these questions in one afternoon?
Mr. Speaker, I know what you will say. You are bound by the Standing Orders. We all are. I know that the government has up to 45 days, but some of these questions are routine. We need this information to do our jobs. What is the government trying to hide in relation to some of the questions on the order paper?
Questions on the Order Paper
I note that the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest is really making submissions. He has not really raised a point of order because there is nothing in the rules that prevents the government from waiting until the 45th day if it wishes to answer a question.
If the parliamentary secretary wishes to respond to the representations of the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, I will hear him briefly. Otherwise we will consider the matter closed.
I stress that it is not a point of order at this point because there is nothing for the Chair to rule on. The Chair does not rule on whether or not the government is dragging its feet or whether or not any hon. member is dragging his feet. I would not think of such a thing.
Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON
That, in the opinion of this House, during the week of January 2, 2006, the Prime Minister should ask her Excellency the Governor General of Canada to dissolve the 38th Parliament and to set the date for the 39th general election for Monday, February 13, 2006; and
That the Speaker transmit this resolution to Her Excellency the Governor General.
Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order concerning the motion before us which you have just read, and I wish to submit to you that it is out of order in that it would ask you as Speaker to do that which is an impossibility. It is a constitutional impossibility because it offends the practice and the constitutional form and design of how the House must properly communicate with Her Excellency the Governor General, because it asks you to transmit a resolution, if passed, of the House to Her Excellency.
I point to Beauchesne's fifth edition at page 37, which outlines the role of Speaker as the representative of members of the House. It lays out the House's relationship to Her Excellency the Governor General. It is enunciated there that there are three times or methods when this occurs: first, upon your election as Speaker, you petition the Governor General for the continuance of the Commons' privileges; second, you personally deliver an engrossed Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne to the Governor General; and third, and the most common example, you lead us when summoned by the Governor General to the other place.
If the House wishes to collectively communicate with Her Excellency, it can only be by address to Her Excellency. That is our constitutional design. That is the form of communication which the House might only engage in with Her Excellency.
I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that in the same fifth edition of Beauchesne's at page 123, it lays out a form of address for when the House wishes to communicate with Her Excellency. It is a very rare occasion other than the reply in the address to the Speech from the Throne that the House wishes to address or communicate with Her Excellency the Governor General. History will show us that it is a very rare event indeed.
If we go back to the time of William IV in Great Britain just prior to Queen Victoria, there were events when the House of Commons wished to communicate with the king and it was done so by an address. It is a very particular form of communication. To my knowledge, it has never been carried out in this place in a form like that laid out in this motion.
Mr. Speaker, knowing that there is a particular constitutional demand upon how we speak to the Governor General, and knowing that this, if passed, would ask that you transmit this resolution to Her Excellency the Governor General, what is the transmission? Is it an email? Is it a phone call? Is it a courier delivering a resolution of the House? It is a rather peculiar way of doing business knowing that the Crown is the head and the font of power in this place.
Therefore, knowing that this transmission is not defined and knowing that this is an unknown way of communicating with the Crown as represented by Her Excellency the Governor General, I would submit that this is a resolution which is an impossibility from a constitutional point of view. It is also an impossibility from a plain language point of view because we do not know what a transmission is. Therefore, I would ask that you rule it out of order.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order I would like to make a few comments. First of all, it is quite outrageous and flabbergasting to hear this member rise and make this point of order. Clearly what is going on here is a political ploy that is being put forward by this member and presumably other members of his caucus who want to try to ensure that this motion will not be debated today.
I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that this motion is entirely in order. It is wording that is characterized in a way that an opposition day motion would be characterized: “That, in the opinion of this House...”. It is giving advice to the Prime Minister based on the opinion of this House that would then be transmitted to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Governor General.
I would point out that for the wording of this motion there were discussions held with the Table to ensure that the wording was appropriate, including the word “transmit”. These discussions have been held.
I think we should make it clear here today that this intervention by the Liberal member is simply political posturing. It is mischievous to try to prevent this getting to the floor. It is a very anti-democratic intervention that has been made. We simply want to have this motion debated by the House, to have the House vote on this motion and to provide this advice.
It would be no different from the procedure used when there is the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and it is transmitted to the Governor General. It would be no different from that case.
I would urge the Chair not to concede to the point that is being made here. This motion is in order. We hope that this debate on this very important motion will now begin.
Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC
Mr. Speaker, I must say that the argument raised by the government is absolutely pointless at this time. The resolution introduced by the NDP is absolutely in order under our standing orders.
I will therefore merely make two points in support of my position. It will not take long but should be conclusive.
First, to quote Marleau and Montpetit, page 724:
Members in opposition to the government may propose motions for debate on any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as well as on committee reports concerning estimates. The standing orders give members a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (e.g., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene
That strikes me as very clear.
Second, they cannot claim that this motion is unconstitutional. It says that “during the week of January 2, 2006, the Prime Minister should ask her Excellency the Governor General of Canada to dissolve the 38th Parliament .” There have been many similar motions in this House. In fact, according to the Canadian Constitution, it is up to the Prime Minister to designate his cabinet and there is nothing to stop any member of this Parliament from introducing a motion calling on the Prime Minister to require a minister to resign. So, it is not unconstitutional.
Everyone knows that Canada's foreign policy depends on the government and the Prime Minister. Yet there is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about introducing a motion in this House calling upon the Government of Canada to change its position on international policy. That is absolutely not unconstitutional.
All of the powers of the government set out in the Canadian Constitution can be challenged by a resolution of this Parliament. Parliament is free—and this is the very purpose of opposition days—to speak out and suggest actions to the Prime Minister and the government, even within areas that are essentially their responsibility under the Constitution.
The NDP motion fully meets these criteria. It absolutely cannot be judged procedurally out of order. As for its content, it is similar to any proposal that might be made, for instance calling upon the Prime MInister to dismiss members of his Cabinet. That is his responsibility, but it could be done and the government should accept the motion, whether in good faith or not.
I therefore feel we should put an end to this discussion, accept the NDP motion and proceed with the debate.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to unnecessarily delay this any longer because I believe this is a frivolous point of order by my Liberal colleague across the way.
The simple fact of the matter is, as my NDP and Bloc colleagues have stated, that we are just trying to delay getting this on the floor where we can have a good debate.
I would remind you, Mr. Speaker, and I know you do not need to be reminded, that you are a servant of the House and it is my understanding that the House could collectively come to a decision and ask you to do something. That is all this is about.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I want to add that I believe the rights of the member for Sarnia—Lambton have been impugned by the allegation that the matters raised are politically motivated. It is his right to rise on a point of order. He has made his case, so I raise that.
The Chair has heard the submissions of all hon. members who have made them on this point. I want to thank the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for raising the issue and the hon. member for Mississauga South for his intervention.
I want to thank as well the hon. members for Vancouver East, Prince George—Peace River and Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean for their important interventions on the matter.
I note that the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton did not mention the first paragraph as the source of his objection in his point of order. It concerned only the second paragraph.
He was arguing that the Speaker has no ability to transmit something to Her Excellency on instructions from the House except an address, and only really the address in reply.
In this respect, I must say I am not sure the hon. member is correct. I note that many transmissions are received by the House from Her Excellency, the Governor General, for example, letters indicating that Her Excellency will be attending in the Senate later in a day to deliver a royal assent, to make a speech or whatever it might be. These matters are transmitted to the House by the Speaker.
Similarly, I could transmit back if I needed to, indicating something else was preventing me from attending the Senate, I suspect, if there was some problem, for example, if the House was not sitting.
However, I am surprised that there would be an argument that the Speaker would have difficulty in transmitting the opinion of the House to Her Excellency as expressed in a resolution of the House. If it were adopted, and I am not making any judgment as to whether or not this is likely to be adopted by the House, but assuming it were, the Speaker would be in a position to have that transmitted.
I admit that the resolution does not say how, but I think I can dream up some method of achieving that goal, perhaps paying a visit to Her Excellency and delivering a copy of the resolution or, alternatively, sending it by letter under my signature. In any event, I think transmission could take place.
In my view, the resolution is one that is within the parameters set out for an opposition day. It does express only the opinion of the House which, in my view, is something that could be expressed in the form of a resolution.
Accordingly, I find the point of order is not well taken. I am not finding it frivolous, as was suggested, but I find it not well taken and we will proceed with the debate on the motion. I believe it is in order.
The hon. leader of the New Democratic Party, then, will be the first speaker.
Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is a historic day in this Chamber in that a proposal is before the House that could bring all parties together in a spirit of compromise in a minority Parliament to achieve a number of key shared objectives. When that happens it is a salutary moment in this chamber. It is one that we need to consider very seriously. We need to examine the arguments why such a course of action is not only sensible, in the sense of being very much a common sense proposition, but also serves the interests of Canadians which is after all why we are here.
The objective is to get things done for Canadians over the next number of weeks and then move into an election after the holiday season in January for a voting day in the middle of February.
Three parties in the House have indicated that spirit of compromise in coming forward with this proposal. The only party so far that has refused to exercise that spirit of compromise, that sense of working together to find a common sense road ahead in order to achieve important objectives for Canadians, sadly is the very party whose unethical conduct has created the situation that we are in today.
The fact is that nothing, but nothing, prevents the Prime Minister from setting an election date on the advice of Parliament. It is, if I may say so, typical Liberal arrogance that a majority vote of Parliament is seen somehow to be irrelevant or an obstacle.
Just because something has not been done before does not mean that it might not be in fact a very good idea. The Prime Minister promised transformative change and suggested that it was required in order to fix the democratic deficit. We agree. However, now he refuses to compromise even though a majority of the House is going to be voting in favour of this advice. In other words, the Prime Minister will not be respecting the will of Parliament.
That does not sound to me, nor do I believe it will sound to Canadians, as though the democratic deficit is being addressed in a positive way. In fact, what it does is it leaves us with a sense that the democratic deficit is growing. We have a political party that received only 37% of the vote wishing to ignore the views of the House as expressed by parties representing almost two-thirds of Canadians. That, I would submit, is not the appropriate conduct for a Prime Minister of this country or for his political party.
Let us examine some of the issues here. First, we have been told by the Prime Minister and members of his party that what we are talking about is “only eight weeks”. In other words, the difference between the date that the Prime Minister has already set. He has already taken the view that there needs to be an election to determine whether his party can carry on in government as a result of the findings and recommendations of a respected justice who has examined a scandal and reported on it.
The Prime Minister has said that Canadians need to have the opportunity to judge on the findings, the recommendations, and the political party about which the investigation was conducted. We agree. The only question is when.
His proposal is on or about March 1. Our proposal, which will be coming from the majority of members in the chamber when we see the vote next week, suggests the beginning of January. Those are the eight weeks that we are speaking about.
What is to happen in those eight weeks? First, the House is not sitting for five of those weeks. In other words, the democratic process of members rising in the House to propose actions on key issues affecting Canadians, the process of questioning the government on its actions and holding it to account, the idea that we should be considering spending or legislation to correct the many unsolved problems that have been left to fester for 12 long years, is simply unable to be conducted during five of those weeks.
Is the Prime Minister suggesting that somehow those five weeks in particular are irrelevant to Canadians? We submit that by having the election in March those weeks are lost as working weeks for parliamentarians to work for Canadians. Therefore, there is no effective and good argument not to be having an election because during those five weeks we are literally shut out of this place in any event.
Of course, there will be something going on during those five weeks. We can be sure that vehicles such as the Challenger will be regularly booked, that there will be a number of press releases and announcements, probably from coast to coast to coast in this country, all paid for, by the way, by the taxpayer. These announcements and spending decisions will already be made by the House of Commons. As a matter of fact, what will be happening during the five weeks that we are talking about is a public relations campaign, not the actions of anything relevant to this particular House.
We will be having a publicly financed public relations campaign. Then the House will return for three more weeks. What is to take place in those three weeks? A budget will be tabled on which a vote will not be able to happen because the Prime Minister has said there will be an election on or about March 1, a budget which will not precipitate or produce any positive action whatsoever and will dominate the three weeks.
Our proposal is simply that this business of the eight weeks being somehow significant or relevant to addressing the issues of Canadians is false. The work that needs to be done by the House should take place between now and the holidays, and that is what we want to see.
There is a solution to the situation confronting Parliament today. It is a matter of common sense.
In the spring, we managed to keep Parliament going because the Liberals agreed to some of our good ideas. This fall, we submitted proposals, but unfortunately the Liberals chose to not work with us to obtain results beneficial to people.
The Liberal Party cannot decide when it will be judged. The people did not elect a majority government, and all parties must be prepared to make compromises.
I believe there is a reasonable solution. There are options other than an election during the holiday period, which no one wants. In addition, no one wants a Liberal Party that thinks it alone can decide when its comportment should be judged.
With this motion, we are requesting an election be called in early January and the vote held in mid-February. This proposal will thus permit Parliament to pass housekeeping legislation, including some very important bills, and will make it possible for the first meeting between first ministers and native leaders to be held. It will also provide an opportunity for the clean-up in Canadian politics that is needed in order to get back to basics, to produce specific results of benefit to the public.
The difference between last spring and this fall is this. In the spring Liberal corruption created a parliamentary crisis. When the NDP offered good ideas to get things done for people, the Liberals were forced to agree. In the fall, Liberal corruption again created a crisis, but this time the Liberals refused to get things done for people, as the NDP suggested, such as protecting public health care in this country.
This minority Parliament is unusual in that the governing party's unethical conduct has hung over it throughout its life, creating an artificial limit to Parliament's life as established by the Prime Minister. Nothing will happen after the holidays except an expensive taxpayer-funded Liberal pre-election campaign. Let us just formalize when the election will begin. It will be underway, at taxpayer expense, so let us have it conducted under the rules of Elections Canada, with a formal initiation of the electoral process in January.
In the meantime, let us get Bill C-55 passed, a bill to protect workers' wages and pensions when there is a bankruptcy, something our party has urged for many years. It is a bill that three straight Liberal majorities did not produce. It only has come forward in the context of a minority Parliament because the NDP gets things done for working people.
Let us get Bill C-66 passed to get energy rebates to people. Parties from all sides have called for action from the government dealing with the energy price crisis.
Let us let the public transit money and energy efficiency money flow. I remind the House that this money is only there because of the NDP proposals with regard to the budget last spring. That is when we took out the corporate tax cuts and replaced them with precisely these investments that people need.
Let us allow the first ministers meeting with the aboriginal leaders to occur. Twelve years of Liberal government have left aboriginal people often living in third world conditions, and it is about time something was done about it.
The culture of entitlement to which Justice Gomery referred is, unfortunately, alive and well. The Liberal Party thinks that 37% of the support of Canadians entitles it to 100% of the power. There is no sense that there is any need to work with the representatives of Canadians from various other parties who, collectively, have the support of 63% of Canadians.
The common sense compromise that we have proposed would allow people to hear the second Justice Gomery report, which will arrive before voting day. This would enable Canadians to incorporate the recommendations in their thinking and parties would be speaking about those recommendations. In fact, some parties already have advanced proposals for reform. I am very proud of the proposals that have been brought forward by the member for Ottawa Centre, just to name an excellent example of what is before us.
However, the proposal from the Liberal Party to set the date on March 1 essentially establishes a timeline that is in the hands of the Liberal Party to be in charge of pretending to fix its own scandal and then graciously allowing people to vote.
It is true that the common sense compromise is exactly as originally promised by the Prime Minister last spring. He was under the impression at the time that Justice Gomery would deliver his final report on December 15. Our proposal would have an election taking place exactly when the Prime Minister promised Canadians it would.
The Prime Minister is taking advantage of the fact that Justice Gomery has asked for some extra time to prepare his recommendations, and the House will not be sitting during this extra time period. This simply would provide a free opportunity for Liberals and their cabinet ministers to fly all over the country, at public expense, and talk about how terrific they are. There would be no work done in that period because the House would not be sitting.
It is shameful. What we call for is the spirit of compromise.
I ask this simple question, and I have asked it in this House before. Why, when three party leaders of the four in the House are willing to compromise, as one should in a minority Parliament situation where no party has a majority of the support, is the fourth party is withholding that consent and sense of compromise?
It is not that the Prime Minister cannot compromise because of some rule that exists. We hear this spurious notion that somehow the motion is not constitutional. Those who would take a look at it now that it is written and before the House will realize it is. I can cite some sources. Members do not have to take my word for it.
Julius Grey, a prominent constitutional lawyer, says that there is nothing that prevents this from happening.
Here are some quotes from Hugo Cyr, a constitutional law professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
There is nothing unconstitutional in this motion.
Parliament may be dissolved for a number of reasons following a vote of censure, a vote of non-confidence and a decision by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister or simply because the end of the five-year period has been reached. In other words, loss of confidence is not the only reason for the dissolution of Parliament.
Since nothing prevents the Prime Minister from announcing ahead of time the date he will ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, something the Prime Minister has done on a number of occasions, nothing prevents him from stating ahead of time in a motion put before the House the date on which the request will be made.
Nothing prevents the House from telling the Prime Minister what it considers the appropriate time to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.
I also can quote a law professor from the University of Alberta, one who is also the former attorney general of the country, now the Deputy Prime Minister of our country, who indicated that there was no obstacle to the Prime Minister accepting such advice.
I simply draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have an historic opportunity in a minority Parliament to do what Canadians and the Prime Minister have said that they want to see happen: first, get work done during the fall; second, avoid an election over the holidays; and third, have in the hands of voters the findings and recommendations of Justice Gomery about Liberal corruption. All these things are worthwhile objectives.
There is much work that can be done this fall. It would be better for Canadians not to have to participate or pay attention to electioneering in a season where their children are at home and they are able to spend time with family, thinking about values and about the future in ways that are celebratory and important.
The compromise suggestion respectfully submitted in the House would accomplish those objectives. The only objective that would not be accomplished is one that has never been stated publicly. The government has never referenced or submitted the business it would do in the wintertime. This is period of time when the House would not sit and when no meaningful business could be conducted. The only plan we have had is a plan for the fall. We propose that we work on that plan together. The Liberal Party and its leadership has suggest they do not want to participate. They would rather simply be on their own in January to sell themselves at our expense. We will not have it.
We want this compromise adopted and we call upon Canadians to urge the government to abandon its arrogance of 12 years and to begin to work with the members of Parliament whom they elected.
Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Madam Speaker, the member for Toronto--Danforth began his remarks by citing this as an historic occasion in the House. That is somewhat grandiose. It might be historic because the motion before us is flawed in many respects.
The member for Toronto--Danforth knows full well, or he should know full well, that our government could not possibly accept this motion. The Prime Minister and our government have been profoundly clear that Canadians need an opportunity to see the second and final report of Justice Gomery. On the basis of that Canadians will decide. The government has said that it would call an election within 30 days of that happening.
How could our government now conceivably say that we have reconsidered, that this motion avoids a Christmas election, when we have said, on a matter of principle, that we have to hear the results from Justice Gomery before we call an election?
The member for Toronto--Danforth talks about all the legislation and the good work the House could be doing, which could be forfeited. He knows full well that the government cannot accept the motion, at least he should know that.
A woman cannot be half pregnant. The government either has the confidence of the House or it does not. If those members have the courage of their convictions, they would put a motion before the House asking whether it has confidence in the government. However, they have not done that. They put forward a wishy-washy motion that is an insult and an affront to Canadians and the House.
I ask the member for Toronto--Danforth this. Why should we not wait for the good work of Justice Gomery to be completed so Canadians can judge that fully and then go into an election?