House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was legislation.

Topics

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. In a way, it also gives us an opportunity to take stock of the past session. I would say that in our opinion, the whole legislative agenda in recent weeks and months has been very thin, and it is still very thin and in no way warrants extended sitting hours, as the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons are requesting.

As you know and as the leader mentioned, this is the second year that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have introduced this motion to extend sitting hours in June. Unfortunately, for the second year, we are going to have to say no. It is not because we feel compelled to say no every time. Moreover, the leader pointed out that in the past, even when there was a minority government, the opposition had agreed to support such a motion. But given the current legislative context, what the government is asking us is to give it a blank cheque from now until June 23. I will explain what I mean by that.

At the last two meetings of the House leaders and whips, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons handed out proposed schedules up to June 23. Currently, four or five bills are being studied by parliamentary committees, and those studies should be completed shortly. We could see from the proposed schedules that before the end of the session, the government intends to debate new government bills when the House is not dealing with the bills coming back from committees.

What are these new bills the government intends to debate during the extended hours that are not taken up with the work already in progress in committees? This is extremely disturbing and that is where the government wants us to give it a blank cheque, which is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois and, in fact, to all three opposition parties.

I will give an example. I am my party's democratic reform critic. What guarantee do I have that, during the extended hours, when the committee work draws to a close at its own pace—and it will go fairly quickly for most of these bills—the government will not decide to introduce a bill like Bill C-22, which was introduced in the past and was designed to increase the number of members from Ontario and western Canada and reduce Quebec's relative political weight? We would be very much opposed to such a bill. I would also remind hon. members, with respect to the potential reduction of Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons, that the National Assembly had unanimously passed a motion at the time, calling on the federal government to withdraw its bill. So I will certainly not agree to extended sitting hours so that the government can come back again with that idea.

I would also like to point out that we feel it is extremely important that the relative weight of Quebec's members in this House be maintained. Given the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House in November 2006, it is only natural that that nation's weight within an institution like this one should remain the same. It is often argued that the Constitution guarantees the 75 members from Quebec, but that argument is not enough. If we currently make up roughly 24% of this House, then that relative weight must be maintained.

The formula for doing so is still debatable. The number of members from Quebec could be increased proportionally. The remaining members could be distributed differently throughout Canada to ensure that this House will always have 308 members representing the entire country. But the fact remains that this is the sort of bill the government could introduce, taking advantage of the thin legislative agenda and the fact that we will have to fill time.

Consequently, the Bloc Québécois and I are not at all willing to give the government this blank cheque.

In practical terms, as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said, House committees are currently studying five bills. Of those, committees may report on three or four before the House adjourns for the summer. None of the bills is likely to be the subject of much debate or dissent from the opposition as a whole or even any one of the opposition parties. It is not hard to see that they will be passed quickly.

As I said, I am completely open to discussion, if ever the government thinks that a few extra hours would help wrap up a debate on a particular bill on a particular day. That is why, when I asked the official opposition whip a question earlier, I said that the government should approach things from the other direction rather than ask us to give it a blank cheque to extend sitting hours until 10 p.m. every day. The leader suggested that if we were to finish a debate at 8 p.m., we could see the clock as 10 p.m., but I think that it would be more logical to do things the other way around on a case-by-case basis. If the government needs more time to study a bill, it should ask the opposition to extend the sitting hours to debate a specific bill on a specific night.

As I said, unless the government is planning to introduce new bills that have not yet been announced, the fact that there is so little on the legislative agenda makes me worry that the government will have a hard time filling the 11 days we have left, let alone any extended hours. I have a hard time seeing how we will fill the schedule between now and June 23, and thus, once again, I cannot give the government a blank cheque to create an opportunity to debate bills that I am not currently aware of.

The official opposition whip and I have indicated that not only is the legislative agenda extremely thin, but it also fails to address the most critical issue at this time, which is the serious economic crisis we are facing. Consider the following example. Since May 15, when I held a press conference to denounce this thin legislative agenda, by the way, only five bills have been introduced. Three relate to justice, but none propose any solutions to address the economic crisis. We, however, have proposed some solutions.

I would like to show the people watching us here today the reality as it stands in the manufacturing sector in the regions of Quebec. Today I learned that in my riding, Graymont, a company that produces quicklime at its Joliette plant, is suspending production indefinitely.

I would like to quickly read the comments of Mr. Chassat, Graymont's director of operations for eastern Canada:

The very serious economic downturn in eastern North America is affecting many of our major clients in the steel, metal, and pulp and paper sectors. This has led to a significant decrease in demand...

Naturally, since Graymont is a company that must generate profits or at least break even—we are not talking about a not-for-profit organization—the company will close that plant until demand rebounds.

Not only is it clear that the crisis is worsening, but certain sectors that had previously been spared are going to be affected. Graymont hires workers. Those workers will be unemployed and eventually, their consumer behaviour will slow down. Fewer services will be needed in the Joliette region. Graymont also uses subcontractors who will also lose business. They might eventually be forced to close their doors. Accordingly, it would have been crucial, and it remains crucial, to have a real plan for economic recovery.

It was not just the Bloc Québécois' expectation, but also that of the Conférence régionale des élus du Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which lamented the fact that none of the programs met the needs of the forestry sector. When programs in theory targeted this sector, they were not accessible because it was difficult to meet the bureaucratic criteria established by this government. We are not the only ones who believe that the federal government should have and must come up with a second stimulus plan.

We have made suggestions twice before: the first time in November, before the ideological statement by the Minister of Finance, and the second in April. Our proposals deal with both employment insurance, or assistance for workers affected by the crisis, as well as the companies affected. I would like to mention a few of these proposals. First, there was the elimination of the two week waiting period. The Bloc Québécois is very pleased to be able to say that we introduced a bill in this regard, which is currently being studied in committee.

We also proposed an eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all claimants, an increase in benefits from 50% to 60% of earnings and an income support program for older workers. This program existed in 1998 and was cut by the Liberals. Since that time, successive governments, Liberal as well as Conservative, have said they will reinstate it. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that she established a training pilot project but it is not an income support program for older workers that would allow older workers, over the fairly long term—from a few months to a few years—to bridge the gap between employment and retirement.

We did make several suggestions, but as I said, the government ignored them all. The Bloc Québécois would not be at all offended if the government decided to act on one or more of those suggestions. With respect to businesses, I want to add that we made a suggestion that would apply to all manufacturing sector businesses. A Corvée investissement program would enable the government to finance up to one-fifth of the cost of introducing new technologies. In the 1980s, Quebec's Corvée habitation program produced very good results for housing, and we took that as our inspiration. We suggested putting $4 billion into such a fund, which could generate investments worth about $16 billion if the total amount were used. The government wanted nothing to do with the idea.

I will raise a few other points and then get back to the issue of extending hours. The government has heard from us about loan guarantees and will continue to do so in question period. It is totally unacceptable for the forestry sector not to have access to loan guarantees. I will not get into the rhetoric spouted by the ministers from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. There are programs, but people are telling us that they do not qualify for those programs. So that means that we have ineffective, non-existent programs for people who are going through hard times.

As to refundable research and development tax credits, the whole industry wants this measure, which would enable businesses that are not making a profit to continue investing so they can be ready to compete when the economy begins to recover, which we hope will be as soon as possible.

I will conclude with two other examples of measures, such as the use of wood in the renovation and construction of federal buildings. I would remind the House of a very important figure. The assistance given to the auto sector is equivalent to $650,000 per job. No one is questioning the relevance of that assistance, although we would have liked to see more conditions attached. In comparison, the assistance given to the forestry sector amounts to $1,000 per job. In other words, the auto sector received 650 times more assistance than the forestry sector. We think this is completely unfair. Solutions must therefore be found for the forestry sector. We also suggested support for the communities affected by this very serious crisis.

Thus, we have seen some ideas concerning how the government should respond to the number one concern of Quebeckers and Canadians, namely, the economic crisis, as well as the insecurity they feel about their employment, their income and their families' futures.

As I said, nothing has been done, and the five bills that have been introduced since May 15, 2009, related to justice and public safety. In that regard, I must admit, the Conservatives have been very productive and I imagine the Minister of Justice is proud of that.

The problem is that, more often than not, the measures proposed have been populist measures that might interest a certain conservative following ideologically, but that are ineffective when it comes to maintaining a high level of security and well-being in Canadian and Quebec society. We are not questioning the importance of improving the justice system, but what the government is proposing has been more or less akin to aggressive therapy, rather than true modernization of the system.

Since Bill C-5 was introduced on May 8, 2009, no other bills have been introduced to help the thousands of workers who have lost their jobs. No bills have been introduced to help businesses in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which have been so seriously affected by this crisis. None of those bills contained any measures to help regional economies and communities diversify. In fact, none of those bills would suggest that the government is aware of the magnitude of this economic crisis. Of course it is extremely difficult to understand the government's indifference.

However, now that we have heard the Minister of Natural Resources' comments, we perhaps have a better understanding of the Conservatives' political culture. We also see that the main concern of this minister is to boost her career and that the concerns of patients who do not have access to the isotopes or who are worried about the shortage are secondary. We also know that she finds the issue to be sexy. It is not the first time we hear such talk. Members will recall that, during the listeriosis crisis, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food made some comments that were quite shocking.

This lack of empathy and the government's indifference, reflected in its legislative agenda, make it impossible to accept the motion tabled by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons because—and this is the crux of the matter—they are asking the opposition to give them a blank cheque. By extending sitting hours we would have absolutely no idea of what we would be debating. It certainly would not be the legislation before us, which can be announced.

For example, this morning they announced a bill regarding a park, which does not pose a problem. In my opinion, after reading the bill, the opposition parties will quickly agree to passing the bill in the shortest possible timeframe. This type of bill does not pose a problem and does not require the extension of sitting hours.

As was the case last year, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons did not convince us of the usefulness of extending sitting hours and that is why we are refusing. The opposition or the Bloc Québécois do not oppose extending sitting hours when the time is to be used productively, but they do not see the purpose of extending sitting hours just to pass the time or, even worse, to study surprise bills.

As I mentioned, there is also no guarantee that new bills will not be introduced, perhaps with the complicity of the Liberals, to ram things down Quebec's throat. We cannot run the risk, by extending the hours, of granting time for bills about which we know nothing.

Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence to suggest that the government would use extended sitting hours to deal with the economic crisis and help people who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for employment insurance because the criteria are too restrictive. Nor have we seen anything to suggest that these bills would help the forestry and manufacturing sectors. Not only do we have no guarantees, but we have not heard even the faintest suggestion that the government is interested in helping.

In closing, if the government makes specific requests to extend sitting hours to study specific bills at specific times, the Bloc Québécois will be open to talking about it. I will be open to talking about it. But right now, with the legislative agenda before us, I think that adopting the motion put forward by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons would amount to giving the Conservative government carte blanche, and that is the last thing that the Bloc Québécois and Quebec want to give this government.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague, the Bloc House leader. I have one comment, and then I would like some clarification.

I have to take objection to his comment that he does not want to give the government a blank cheque when it comes to extending hours because then we would be able to introduce all sorts of legislation that the Bloc may not be in agreement with.

I would point out that that is absolutely not the case because, as the Bloc House leader knows, every time we get together on Tuesday afternoons in our House leaders meetings, the government lays out its proposed legislation for a two-week period. We certainly do that so that we will be able to consult with and inform all of our opposition colleagues as to the type of legislation we would be bringing forward.

The government House leader also pointed out that we would bring forward individual pieces of legislation every day, and the clock would not run automatically to 10 o'clock. Quite frankly, the House could close quite quickly after 7 o'clock or even before that, if we got through the piece of legislation that we were asking for.

My colleague from the Bloc said that he would be quite willing to entertain a system where we could identify individual pieces of legislation, and if the Bloc agreed on that legislation, it would agree to individual extended sitting hours on a daily basis.

From the government standpoint, we would be much appreciative if that was the position of the Bloc. We would certainly be willing to work with the Bloc if that was the case. I would just like to get confirmation from the Bloc member that his offer is sincere.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we are open to talking about it.

That does not mean that we will automatically agree to any request the government might make to extend sitting hours, but if debate on a certain bill were about to end and we still needed a few more hours, of course we would give that careful thought.

I want to add something else. I took a look at what was tabled every Tuesday for the past month. We have covered nearly everything the Leader of the Government wanted us to, as I said. He wanted bills in the House to be ready for royal assent; he got all but one of them—Bill C-6—and that is expected to happen around June 10. He wanted four bills to be sent to the Senate. Two of them are in the Senate. There are two more to go. So that makes three. Bill C-20 is in committee and should be back here soon. The parliamentary leader wanted the committee's report to be done by June, and that is likely to happen.

We have a problem with Bill C-19. I would remind the House that Bill C-8 and Bill C-23 were not included in the government's agenda that ends June 23. I therefore assume that the government does not plan to address those bills before the fall. We will debate them in the fall.

I therefore do not believe there is enough material to keep the House busy for 11 days from now until June 23. Once again, if we need to extend the sitting hours occasionally, the government can rest assured that the Bloc Québécois will be open to discussion.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government laid out the bills that in the government's view were important to Canadians.

Bill C-26 on auto theft has been at the justice committee for some time now. Bill C-34 went to the justice committee yesterday. I do not know how the committee does two bills at one time. Bill C-35 was introduced on June 1. It has not even started second reading and I am sure second reading will take up a lot of time. Bill C-36 was introduced on June 5 and will ultimately go to the justice committee.

Bill C-6 is here in the House at report stage and can commence. That would certainly be one piece of legislation. Bill C-31, the tobacco bill, went to committee on June 3. The committee needs to call witnesses. We will not see that bill before June 23. Bill C-23, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, is the last one on the list in terms of government importance, and it would appear the government has no intention whatsoever of calling this bill because of the difficulties.

What the government has not included is Bill C-8, which I think is very important.

It appears to me the government has selected priorities which in fact are not the priorities of Canadians and do not justify extended hours for no progress whatsoever.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is what I have been saying from the beginning. On May 15, 2009, I publicly expressed my concerns about how thin the legislative agenda was. Once again, I see things exactly as the member does. There is no need to extend the sitting hours to reach this government's objectives. From what I understand, Bill C-8 and Bill C-23 were not part of the government's objectives to be met by June 23. Personally, I do not feel they are part of what we need to address before the summer break.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the House leader for the Bloc, for his comments today because he laid out in a very rational and clear way how we should proceed in terms of dealing with the business of the House. He said in his remarks that this motion for extension of hours is a blank cheque. I would certainly agree with him on that. It seems the government is just saying “trust us, we are not going to bring anything else in, but it is just a matter of trust us”.

It seems to me that the purpose of the House leaders meeting, where we get together every week, is to go over legislation, to make those decisions, and as the member knows, we do that. It has been the usual practice. Given the agenda we have, and I agree with him that it is a very thin agenda, I do not see any rationale why we would not continue with that practice to look at individual bills and decide whether or not there is agreement to speed them up and have them go through quickly. That practice has been working and the government's agenda will likely be fulfilled using that ongoing practice.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree completely with the House Leader of the New Democratic Party. I, too, find it difficult to understand. I think we all have the same views on the legislative agenda and agree that it is rather thin. Whenever we meet on Tuesday afternoons and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons suggests that we speed things up, the opposition sometimes suggests bills that could be debated more quickly and we come to an agreement.

I do not understand why the government House leader was bent on moving a motion when he knows that the three opposition parties are not in favour of it. It certainly is not the way to obtain the opposition's cooperation. He arrives with a motion knowing from the outset that the three parties—the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc—oppose it. So much for diplomacy 101.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add to what was said by the House Leader of the Bloc Québécois. I do not wish to talk about the thin agenda and all the bills that have been passed but I believe, on the contrary, that we must save the House some time. However, there are good reasons for proposing a case-by-case approach and not giving a blank cheque to the government to extend the sitting hours of the House every evening.

I would also like to mention a fairly important argument, that of the cost of these extensions. A rather large number of people provide security for Parliament and MPs, as we can see from the number of RCMP vehicles around Parliament. What they do not know is that there are also many security guards inside. There are the interpreters who interpret our debates and the people who prepare Hansard. When the House sits late, those who put together Hansard and translate it must work very late, into the early morning hours.

During an economic crisis, when the projected deficit is $50 billion, these debates may not add much to that total, but the House, as the nation's highest government institution, should demonstrate frugality. If we are disciplined, we can easily cover what remains of the legislative agenda in the time we have left.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher is absolutely right. Basically, if we had a good reason to extend sitting hours, the Bloc Québécois would support the motion. However, we really get the sense that the Leader of the Government and the government itself are doing this mostly for show, to demonstrate that although they want to work hard, we do not want to extend sitting hours. That is exactly why we have to refuse to extend sitting hours unnecessarily because we do not want to play the government's game. It would be tantamount to giving it a blank cheque and wasting taxpayers' money.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

June 9th, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the NDP to participate in this debate which is about extending the hours of the House.

We heard the government House leader rise earlier and move a motion under Standing Order 27(1) to extend the hours of the House for the remaining 10 sitting days of the House, although he excluded the Fridays. So that is what we are here debating today.

Certainly, first off, I will be the first to acknowledge that the government has an opportunity to do this. We know that on the calendar, as the government House leader pointed out, there is a series of dates where this is a permissible and enabling thing that can be brought forward under the House rules to extend the hours of the House.

However, it has to be done by the will of the House. It cannot be unilaterally imposed by the government unless it is in a majority and it can get something through, but certainly in a minority Parliament situation, which is what we face today, that opportunity to extend the hours of the House has to be done with the co-operation and with the support of the opposition, or at least part of the opposition.

Therefore, what we are really debating today is whether or not there is merit in the government's motion to extend those hours. I have to say that listening to the speeches today both from the government and from the opposition members, there is a genuine reflection and a voice about whether or not there is merit, whether or not those operating hours should be extended.

It is not something that should be done lightly. The government House leader, in his remarks earlier at the beginning of the debate, said that the purpose of seeking the extension of the hours was “to set a goal each day of what we”, and that means the government, “want to accomplish”.

Then he talked about it as being a management tool. On the surface, using that very sort of diplomatic language of setting a goal each day of what the government wants to accomplish, we have to examine that and decide whether or not it is a legitimate thing that the government is requesting.

I think one has to look at that in the context of what has actually taken place in the House in this second session of the 40th Parliament, and whether or not the government has actually used the management tools that it has wisely and properly, and whether now that we are down to the last 10 days, it should be granted that opportunity to extend the hours of the House.

In speaking to that, I am looking at the merit of that request that the government has put forward this day. I want to point out some of the numbers of what we have actually dealt with. I think it is important in deciding whether or not we are now in a situation where we should be looking at extended hours.

We have seen something like 38 bills introduced by the government in this second session. If we take away the bills that have special rules, like the supply bills, then we are down to about 34 bills. Of those 34 bills, 22 have actually passed through the House of Commons. That works out to about 65%.

In actual fact, the government has accomplished a lot of its agenda already and there has been the passage of a fair amount of legislation that it has introduced.

What is also interesting is that of the bills that have been approved, about 20% of them were actually done in a fast tracked way. Some went through in a few moments, all stages of a bill; some went through in one day; some went through multiple stages in a day; about 20%.

I think that is very significant. That happened because there was discussion among the House leaders at our regular meetings and there was a sense of co-operation about what it was we thought we could take on, what matters were urgent, or they were basically things that we agreed with and we could agree that they should go through in a much faster way.

That is a significant thing. Twenty per cent of the government's bills have actually gone through the House in that kind of fast tracked way.

We know that now with the remaining 10 sitting days there are seven bills that are still in the House. Actually six of them are justice or public safety bills and probably five of them require not an extensive debate.

There are a couple of bills, some of which have been noted here today, that are very problematic certainly for the NDP and other opposition parties. If those bills come forward, we in the NDP are going to do everything we can to ensure that they are fully debated. In fact, we will try to defeat them.

The reality is that with 10 sitting days left, the hours we have for debate and what is on the legislative agenda, and as my colleague from the Bloc just pointed out a few moments it is actually a pretty thin legislative agenda, it is very likely that most of the bills that remain will go through the House and there will not be any kind of holdup.

There are other pieces of legislation that are very problematic. Certainly for us in the NDP, one of the bills that we are most concerned about and will do everything we can to defeat it is the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, Bill C-23. In fact, we were very disappointed when Bill C-24, regarding the free trade agreement between Canada and Peru, received approval, with the NDP voting against it, just a few days ago.

I will mention, in the last day or two, the violence that has taken place in Peru against indigenous people, where people have been oppressed and murdered by government forces. It has been absolutely horrific. Yet, that bill went through.

I want to put on the record that if the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement bill comes forward, which the government to this point has held back and put at the bottom of its agenda, the NDP caucus will be fighting it tooth and nail. Every single one of our members will stand to debate that bill to point out and expose what a bad trade agreement it is. We take that very seriously.

However, those are the exceptions. Most of the bills before us are bills that will not be contentious but will require debate.

I want to make the point that I find it very ironic that time and time again we have heard the government House leader or other ministers stand and allege that particularly the NDP is holding up legislation. This has really floored me. I have spoken to some of the exceptions, but on most of those occasions we were talking about debating a bill at, say, third reading for a day. Even debating a bill for a day is somehow now characterized as holding up legislation and a delaying tactic. I find this quite astounding.

In parliamentary history, in terms of the business we do, we are here to debate legislation. We are here to go through it in a serious fashion and decide whether we support it in principle, whether it requires amendments, to take it through committee, and bring it back to the House. To debate a piece of legislation at second reading, third reading or report stage for a day or less than that is certainly not a delaying tactic.

I feel very offended that the government has chosen to take the line that anything debated more than a couple of hours is somehow a stalling and delaying tactic. That is what we are sent here to do, to represent our constituents, provide the opinions and perspectives of the people of Canada, and debate legislation that has enormous impacts on the lives of not only Canadians but sometimes globally, as we saw with the Canada-Peru agreement.

NDP members are not about to forfeit their duty and responsibility to debate that legislation in a fulsome way and make sure that all of the issues we believe are important are put forward in the House of Commons, in the Canadian Parliament. That is what we were elected to do and we take it very seriously.

I will go back to the issue of the government saying that this is a management tool and that it is being ever so thorough in using it. The government says that it wants to set a goal each day to do what it wants to accomplish. It really is a blank cheque. The government wants to have its cake and eat it too, instead of using the practice we have used continually, a practice that has worked relatively well.

The government House leader acknowledged in his opening remarks that there had been co-operation with the opposition parties, that there had been agreement on any number of items. Now we see this blank cheque approach. The government will make a unilateral decision and on any given day over the next 10 days, we will discuss this bill and that bill. The government will keep the debate going until 10 o'clock at night and we will not have any input into that. It will be a government decision.

If the Conservatives see that as a management tool, then it begs the question as to how they have managed their political and legislative agenda overall. If we look at the way they manage their business, we see quite a different picture.

We are talking about a government that prorogued the House on two occasions and killed its own legislation because of short-term political expediency. We saw it just before December. The government shut down Parliament in reaction to the opposition parties working together to represent the public interest with respect to what we needed to do with regard to the recession. That was very undemocratic. From the Conservative point of view, that was an incredibly successful management tool, but it was not in the interests of Parliament or the Canadian people.

At what is now the eleventh hour in the second session of the 40th Parliament, the Conservatives need to have extended hours for debate. They have to make their case for it. In listening to the government House leader today, I do not think they have done that. They have shown us that they want to go into overdrive by using this so-called management tool to suit their own purposes. They need to recognize that they are in a minority Parliament, where co-operation should be sought and where discussion can produce a positive result.

The NDP reacts very negatively to the idea that extended hours are needed at this time, not that at some other occasion they might be needed, but that opportunity is there.

The government has failed to make the case that it needs extended hours for the next 10 days to get through the very few bills that are left. If the Conservatives are thinking of bringing back some of the other bills like the Canada-Colombia free trade bill or the matrimonial real property bill, the NDP will fight them tooth and nail on those bills. We are not prepared to let those bills come forward. They have the choice of what they want to put on the order of business each day, but they know we will fight them.

We have come to the conclusion that the motion is simply not warranted. It is that straightforward. The business we have before us can be conducted. A number of these bills deal with justice and public safety issues. The government has been trotting out these little boutique bills one Criminal Code clause at a time. There has probably been a dozen of these bills. If there had been discussion, a number of those bills could have been brought forward in an omnibus bill. The government decided, again based on its political agenda, to bring in one bill at a time, so it could make a little showcase. This is really all the government has.

The Conservatives have completely broken down when it comes to dealing with the recession. They have even failed getting their economic stimulus package into local communities. They have completely denied the will of Parliament by refusing to act on motions on EI, which came from the NDP, or on credit cards and consumers protection.

Instead, what have the Conservatives done? Their management tools, their agenda has been to move bills out one at a time to take up an inordinate amount of time in debating them. If they had wanted to, they could have had some serious discussion about how to package some of them. I know our justice critic would have been open to such a suggestion and we would have taken it seriously.

If we consider that five of the six remaining bills could have been dealt with in a different way, then we can begin to see the government really does not have a case at all. It makes one wonder why the Conservatives would even bring forward this motion.

At the meeting of the House leaders we discussed it and I think the Conservatives had an inkling it probably would not be approved. Obviously they have some kind of political agenda. Either they want to bring something forward and try to ram it through or maybe they just think it is the political optics. However, we have to examine the motion in its real substance.

As I pointed out today, if we seriously look at the legislative agenda that remains, it is very clear the Conservatives are in a good position to receive support and to get the remaining bills through in the House. Therefore, why would we consider the extension of hours?

The New Democrat members of the House take our work very seriously. Whenever there have been motions in the House to rise early or to adjourn early, we have been the party to always oppose that. For us, this is not about saying that we do not want to be here. We are here in our seats and we are in committees.

If we look at the members of the House and the activity that goes on, we will not find a harder working caucus, even though we only have one member on each parliamentary committee. Our members work hard to bring forward initiatives. Whether it is on EI, or on arts and culture, or agriculture, or food safety, the NDP members initiate those items. This issue is not about whether we are here or not. We are here. We dedicate ourselves 100% to doing our public business, working for constituents and raising these very important issues about the economy, about what is hitting working people, about the unemployment, pensions and the travesty of the EI system. We do that here day after day, whether it is in question period, or in committees, or in meetings with delegations.

We have no problem with the principle of sitting late. Whether it is for take note debates or emergency debates, we participate in all of that and we do so fully and with a great measure of substance.

However, that does not escape the need to examine the motion for extended hours. We have come to the conclusion that it is a vacuous motion. It is not built on a rationale based on the business before us. The government simply has not made the case. If it had and if there was that imperative, that rationale, we would probably see a different response.

The practice of looking at each piece of legislation brought forward at the House leaders' meeting, involving our critics, and discussing whether there is agreement to move more quickly has worked. Why would we not continue to do that in the last 10 sitting days?

We see no reason to extend the hours, so we will vote against the motion.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague, the House leader of the New Democratic Party. I would take issue with a few of the points she made, but I know we have limited time.

I am will paraphrase what the NDP House leader had to say, and I think my paraphrase is fairly close. She said that the government was in a very good position to get all its legislation through without having to extend sitting hours. I would merely ask a simple question. Will the NDP then agree to ensure that all the legislation we have called forward will be passed to the level at which we have asked it to be passed, either through to the Senate or at least committee? The House leader has that list. If she does agree to that, I do not see why there would be a need to extend hours either. However, the problem is we are not seeing that happen.

Again, speaking on behalf of her party, will she agree that all the legislation we have called forward will receive approval from the NDP and move on to the next step?

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is dreaming in Technicolor. He said that he was paraphrasing me, but he did not quite get close to it. What I said was there was some legislation in the remaining bills that was likely non-contentious, even if we opposed it. However, it is not contentious in terms of the length of debate.

Going through the list, it is very clear that there is some legislation that the government could have bundled together for a speedier passage. Even as we deal with the bills separately, they are not likely to be contentious in terms of the length of time. I was very clear and I repeatedly named legislation. I did not name it all, but I think the member knows the bills, most notably, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. The Conservatives want a blank cheque now, but they will not get one the other way either.

My whole point is that we come here to debate legislation and go through it on its merits. He suggests that everybody will roll over and just do it. The member is dreaming. Let him dream on, but it is not reality.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I tend to agree with the assessment of the hon. member, that there does not seem to be good faith in this motion. I expect the press release to come out, saying that the opposition parties are not serious about doing work. That is just not the case and I think we can prove it.

When we start this place each day, we say a prayer. In it, we say that we make good laws and wise decisions. Good laws take important debate in the House and good work in committees. If the government House leader and the parliamentary secretary wanted, as they put it, to act in the best interests of the country, they would call Bill C-23 on the Colombia free trade agreement and let us deal with a tough bill. They would also call Bill C-8 on matrimonial real property, which I do not believe enjoys the support of the majority of the House and which, if defeated, would give the government an opportunity to go back and commence negotiations and consultations with first nations in Canada so we could deal with an extremely important matter for Canadians.

Would the member agree?

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I bet the press release is already written. It was probably written even before the government House leader stood up. The ink has dried and it is already out there somewhere. I am sure of the political optics of what the Conservatives are trying to say here. We know what they are up to.

In terms of some of the contentious bills such as the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, if it does not come back, we are happy. If it comes back, we will debate it. We will do everything we can to hold it up because we do not want to see that bill go through. The labour movement, civil society and many people have taken note of the bill. I think the Conservatives know the NDP will fight that tooth and nail.

The only question I have is why the Liberals are not also taking up that bill and recognizing how it will trample on environmental, social and labour rights. That is the big disappointment. The Liberals have decided to abandon that and it appears they will vote with the government on that agreement.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague mentioned optics and political agenda a couple of times. It is clear we have an agenda. The agenda is law and order. The agenda is to stimulate the economy. The agenda is to provide more trading opportunities for our farmers and manufacturers. That is what we would like to debate.

My colleague said that discussion produces positive results. We all agree with that. If the NDP disagrees with legislation before us, then let us debate it. Let members of the public see what we are debating and they can draw their own conclusions.

The other issue I had with my colleague's comments was that she said we had separate singular bills but we could have aggregated them. In the past when we have aggregated bills together, the NDP has said that we have hidden things within certain bills, which is erroneous because bills are printed for all to see.

Why would my colleague's party object to more discussion that brings about better results?