House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was hours.

Topics

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Order, Mr. Speaker.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

I am speaking to the motion and I will pull it back, Mr. Speaker.

I am simply asking for the logic behind allowing members of the House, who choose to work harder for Canadians, to do so? Why would it matter? Members opposite should just say, yes, and let us do the work for Canadians. That is the only right answer.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, that member and the government have had fully the entire session of Parliament since their so-called throne speech last fall to do that work on the part of Canadians, and the fact is that they have not done it.

They have been obstructionist in committee. They have been uncooperative with other opposition House leaders.

Simply, to get to the final point, when they were asked just a couple of days ago what their priorities would be for the period between now and the end of the session and what things they would want to see accomplished for Canadians in that period, they could not and would not answer the question.

Until they can indicate what the priorities of the House might be, there is no point in simply providing them a blank cheque on timing. This is not an institution that is governed and run by the government. This is an institution that is run by all parliamentarians. We are duly elected to this place.

It is not just the Conservatives who have legitimacy in the House of Commons. Every parliamentarian who is duly elected to this place has the same rights and responsibilities. The government has to show some respect for the institution before it can expect to see some respect shown in return.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to confirm what the House leader of the Liberals just said when the member for Cambridge asked what was wrong with staying here and working at night and what was wrong with putting in more hours.

Does he agree with me about those times at the House leaders' meetings, I believe every week, when we asked to stay at night and have take note debates and were refused? No, we were told by the Conservatives, we are not staying. No reasons were given. What was wrong with having take note debates?

Never have we seen in the history of our Parliament that the procedure and House affairs committee was not sitting for months and months because the Conservatives refused to replace a chair who was taking the side of the government on the in and out scandal when he was supposed to be independent.

I recall when the debate at committee on the sponsorship scandal was brought about by the Conservatives. I am sure the leader of the Liberal Party will remember that, because at that time the Conservatives thought it was a matter for Parliament. Now, though, the Conservatives say the in and out scandal is not a matter for Parliament.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the whip for the NDP is trying to make the point that the government is exercising a double standard.

When it was in opposition it had a certain view about the application of the rules and, for example, things like committees being able to look into allegations of impropriety. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were all in favour of that. Now that they are in government, they have taken extraordinary steps to try to stifle the committee process.

Whether it is procedure and House affairs, the operations committee, the ethics committee or the justice committee, the Conservatives have tried their very best to shut down those committees when those committees wanted to focus upon certain public allegations of impropriety or wrongdoing on the part of members of the government. As a consequence of that, there are portions of our committee system that simply have not been sitting, certainly not sitting effectively, for the last number of months.

Earlier, a member of the NDP made the point about the environment committee. It was effectively stifled and stymied by the government for the simple reason that the government did not like the direction in which the committee was going.

What the government fails to recognize is that this is in fact a minority situation. If we want a minority to function successfully, there has to be some give and take. There has to be some common respect and consultation back and forth across the floor--

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to cut off the hon. member there. More members would like to ask questions. I will go first to the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a backbencher I am confused as to why there would not have been some kind of discussion and agreement between the parties at the House leaders' meetings, which happen once a week, eyeball to eyeball, across an oak table upstairs. I have been there in a previous incarnation. I have witnessed the walkout of the Conservative chair of the justice committee. I have been there.

I do not really understand why these things are not working. The government now is seriously at risk of not getting this motion in the absence of any kind of negotiation.

I will put it to the Liberal House leader that 20 years ago, and the member for Egmont will remember this, this type of motion used to pass in the House. We used to sit one, two or three nights just before the June break to try to get work done, but it was all through negotiation. When the Progressive Conservative Party had a majority, it still negotiated.

Does the Liberal House leader not think there is a misunderstanding or lack of comprehension somewhere in the system when we, as four parties sitting around a table, cannot even come to some agreement on what bills should get to what point and pass before the summer break? What is broken here?

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sure it is a very frustrating situation, particularly for members who have been here for some considerable period of time and have seen the House function in different ways.

There has been a unique style established by the current government in its management of House business. There is not, unfortunately, that spirit of collaboration, give and take, consultation and respect around the table that used to be a hallmark of how the institution would function.

Instead, time and time again, opposition parties are simply told that their views do not matter, that they do not matter, that “it is our way or the highway” and that they can just shove it. That is the attitude. Quite frankly, with that kind of attitude, it is very difficult to work out those collaborative arrangements. We try very hard, as we did at last week's meeting. When the question was asked of the government House leader what the priorities were and what must get done, he would not give an answer.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

We have time for a brief question or comment. The hon. member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry there is only a brief moment for a question, because there is much I would like to say.

Quite frankly, what I find more amazing than anything else is that when the motion was first introduced about 35 minutes ago and we had a voice vote, all opposition parties voiced “no”, when of course this could have been passed by unanimous consent, as everyone in this place knows.

In fact, as the government House leader stated, each and every year since 1982 there have been extended sitting hours before previous Parliaments rose for the summer. The reason for doing that is quite simple. It is to spend as much time as required to try to finish any unfinished business.

I would simply ask the opposition House leader, when does he expect now to deal with government business before us? It appears from his remarks that the opposition is going to be denying consent to extended sitting hours. When, then, does the opposition House leader feel we will actually get to attend to government business, as is the responsibility of that member and every member in this place?

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the hon. gentleman that there are two full sitting weeks remaining between now and June 20. As far as I know, the only day that will be treated in an unusual way, and quite rightly so, will be Wednesday, to deal with the aboriginal apology. Otherwise, it will be the normal flow of business for the remaining nine days.

The government has all of that time to advance its agenda. Maybe it should not have wasted the 16 days at the beginning of this session, or advanced all the other ways in which it has squandered the hours, so that this Parliament could have achieved something more.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.

First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the House leader of the official opposition—that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.

That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.

As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.

This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.

In this case, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.

That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.

Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.

I am thinking about Bill C-50, a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.

As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.

In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.

Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.

Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill C-7, which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill C-7 from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill C-7, but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.

As far as Bill C-5 is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.

Finally, Bills C-29 and C-16 were both reported on by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs roughly six months ago.

All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.

It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.

This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill C-51 on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill C-53 on auto theft.

If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.

Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.

Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.

Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.

Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.

Take Bill C-14, for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.

I will give another example, that of Bill C-24, which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.

These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill C-24.

I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.

Take Bill C-20, for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.

It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.

They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.

A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.

We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill C-19, which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.

These two bills, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.

I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill C-20, albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.

I have one last example, that is, Bill C-22, which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.

The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.

Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill C-482, sponsored by my colleague from Drummond. That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill C-482 was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills C-22, C-19, and C-20 pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.

And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.

This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill C-20. I cannot help but mention Bills C-50 and C-10 as well.

Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill C-10, which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I once again appreciate the good work of our interpreters so that I could understand every word that the hon. member opposite was saying. He addressed a number of things on this issue, but I would like to respond to just a few of them.

The first is he claimed that the bill which proposes that senators be elected is doing indirectly what cannot be done directly. I would like to point out to all members and anybody who happens to be watching that this is not true. The fact of the matter is that the prime minister of the day recommends and appoints senators. He chooses from a list.

I remember when I was on that side of the House I asked many times the prime minister of the day, Monsieur Chrétien, why it was that the list he got from Liberal Party hacks was a more legitimate list than the one given to him by the provinces of people they elected. In both cases, he would choose a senator from a list. That is the response to that point.

The member accused us of pandering to our western roots. I would like to increase the level of respect on that. All of us are elected to represent our constituents. I do not think I am pandering to my people when I properly represent them here. He said that he represents Quebec. Members of the Bloc use that phrase more often than anybody in this place, that the Bloc members are here to represent Quebec.

The difference between Bloc members and me is that I also think globally in terms of Canada and its role in the world. Certainly I think of Canada as a whole when I debate and vote on issues here, whereas he is focused on Quebec only and as such, I think he is doing only part of a job as a federal member of Parliament. I say that respectfully.

I can assure the House that if the shoe were on the other foot, the member would be saying a lot more a lot louder about representation. He indicated that 75% of the seats must come from Quebec regardless of population. That is what the Constitution says and I do not have any particular issue with that, but what about the people in the parts of the country where, because of the demographics, their vote in the House of Commons represents maybe 120,000 people whereas in other areas, it represents less than 100,000?

We should work toward equality for people around the country. That would be a really good nation building thing to do.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the Senate, I am not the one who is saying that. Of the constitutional experts who testified, 80% said that Bill C-20 was unconstitutional, and the other 20% agreed that the government and the Prime Minister were doing indirectly what they could not do directly. Opinion was unanimous, and that was condemned by many of the experts who appeared.

Still with regard to the Senate, not only is the Conservative government paralyzing the work of the House, but it is also paralyzing the Senate. In fact, since the Conservatives came to power, they have not replaced any senators who have retired or died. The Senate currently has 15 vacancies. Last week, Christian Dufour, a political scientist at ENAP, said that at this rate, the Senate would also be paralyzed.

So we are not the ones who are bringing things to a standstill. It is the Conservative government. Moreover, its reform is not at all consistent with what is written in constitution. We have reached the point where it is the Bloc Québécois that is trying to uphold the Canadian Constitution of 1982. That is pretty amazing.

I will conclude by answering the member's last question. We agree that the regions of Canada are entitled to fair representation in this House. But we need to recognize that if Canada is shared by at least two nations, the nation of Canada and the nation of Quebec, then the nation of Quebec must have a political weight in this House that remains unchanged at 25%. We have had 75 members, guaranteed by the Constitution, but 75 out of 308 is not the same as 75 out of 350. It does not give the same political weight. What we are asking is that Quebec, which has been recognized as a nation, maintain its political weight within federal institutions as long as Quebec remains part of them.